Less “blah blah blah,” more community action: energy lessons for 2022
World Energy Council's Dr Angela Wilkinson reflects on the past year in energy, sharing her thoughts on how the global energy community can build forward together in 2022.
This article was originally published in Transition Economist on 17 January 2022.
2021 was another challenging year in energy.
Energy fundamentals – including energy security, access and affordability – are, once again, top of the global agenda here in the UK and around the world.
New waves of the COVID-19 pandemic hit unevenly across regions, causing energy shocks and crises in China, Brazil, UK, the EU, New Zealand and elsewhere, with issues ranging from extreme weather to surges in demand, price hikes and workforce shortages.
Meanwhile, the global climate emergency was elevated to a ‘code red for humanity’ by the UN Secretary General and triggered a flurry of net zero targets and timelines by countries, companies and cities, in the run up to UN COP26 held in Glasgow.
COP26 and our own World Energy Week revealed a stark contrast between the possible responses to the global energy transition challenges. We saw the elites of international finance attend Glasgow with a united voice, particularly around the need for enhanced Environmental, Social and Governance reporting.
The world of philanthropy is also keenly focused on ensuring that investments are made in a timely way to address specific issues around decarbonisation and beyond.
The worldwide energy society, however, remains fragmented and polarised, particularly around highly divisive issues of power technologies. Think, for example, of the debate around the colour of hydrogen. There is too much talk of the merits, or otherwise, of different colours and not enough of how we optimise the technology to the benefit of society.
Earlier in October, we decided to theme World Energy Week Energy for Humanity to mark the necessity of the entire energy industry coming together to produce a truly meaningful dialogue that moves us forward.
There is no time to waste or reason to be complacent. Our future energy leaders want – actually demand – less talk and more action. Now is the time for community values, voices and value-adding contributions to be more visible and impactful.
The question, now, is how to achieve collaboration and consensus when the energy world is more divided than ever. As the World Energy Council enters its 100th year, I have come to think of some key lessons that are as relevant to our future as they have been to our past.
First, energy is a system – behind every switch, button or fuel pump are many connections.
The energy transition is a process, not a destination, and it cannot be delivered all in one go. Single issue thinking is counter-productive.
Diversity in energy systems is increasing in the broadest sense – resources, technologies, uses, people and skills: there is no ‘one-size-fits-all' approach.
The future of energy can't be predicted, but a better energy future can be co-created if we remain open to multiple pathways.
Energy technology transition involves social disruption and societal transformation
Looking ahead, the next big thing in energy is not a global technology moon-shot, but thousands of small steps by people and communities at all levels of our society.
Additionally, ESG activism risks creating new green technology bubbles. Many parts of society are still unprepared for the real choices and depth of changes involved in reaching net zero targets, successfully managing the global energy transition, scaling renewables and moving the world’s energy system towards a safe operating space for humanity.
As we keep pursuing our Humanising Energy vision, I believe in driving four essential enablers of a human-centric global energy transition: increased energy literacy; skills diversification and workforce transition; building community-led energy transition sprints and; supporting the creation of an open energy user data platform.
The 25th World Energy Congress will convene increasingly diverse energy interests and provide an opportunity to showcase the spectrum of new solutions. Join us to share your humanising energy story and help deliver energy for billions of better lives and a healthy planet.
We must remember that we are the masters of our common energy destiny. 2022 will give us a chance to set the foundations for the transition ahead of us.