In January, the World Energy Council (WEC) released its 13th annual World Energy Issues Monitor, a compilation and assessment of the views of some of the energy industry’s biggest decision-makers, as the world moves towards increasingly stretched energy infrastructure, and dire climate goals.
Close to 2,220 “energy leaders” from 91 countries were questioned in the wake of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, and their responses suggest that the global energy industry is more unstable than ever. Commodity price volatility, geopolitical uncertainty, and a lack of action on climate change goals are all among the primary concerns of those in the sector, which themselves paint a relatively bleak picture for the future of energy.
Yet with the respondents finding some common ground, including a shared acknowledgement of the importance of ensuring energy access around the world, and the report itself enjoying the kind of reach and influence that only a decade-plus of work can deliver, could the report be the start of real change in the energy industry?
JP Casey (JPC): Why is the report titled “energy in uproar”, and what does this reflect of the global energy industry?
Dr Angela Wilkinson (AW): This year’s edition of our World Energy Issues Monitor, which surveyed energy leaders immediately following COP26, shows a global increase in uncertainty, reflecting concerns about climate change management, volatile commodity prices, and the security and resilience of global supply chains.
Energy geopolitics now extend beyond oil and gas to hydrogen and the non-energy resources necessary for ensuring clean and just energy transitions and scaling the role of renewables.
Economic growth continues to concern global energy leaders as recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic remains challenging and uneven, as the contours of a new and different energy future start to become clear. Energy flows of heat, power, fuels, and storage are headed upwards – as more people need more energy for sustainable development and climate change management.
JPC: Why is it so important to deliver “energy literacy”?
AW: It’s not easy for anyone – expert or public – to make sense of the scope and scale of the global energy system, or the depth of changes implied in global energy transition. Many people are unclear about the role of energy in society and their daily lives and unable to connect to the conversation, which can be full of specialised techno-economic jargon.
A global step change in energy literacy will activate new voices, including energy users and workers, women and youth, and clarify the choices at all levels of society. Humanising energy is the best way of moving forward together as the focus shifts from 2050 to 2030 and includes scope 3 emissions.
The relationship between society and energy is changing and it changes our relationships with each other. The best way to ensure that the urgency of global energy transition avoids triggering a global threat to peace is to involve more people and diverse communities in the process.
JPC: What role will the World Energy Congress have to play in achieving this level of literacy and education?
AW: We launched the World Energy Transition Radar in June 2021 to collate and track signals from across the world about responses to the Covid and climate change crises and assess the implications for the speed and direction of global energy transition. The global radar indicates a direction of change along two different scenarios pathways, called ReRecord and Fast Forward. Regional radars reflect greater diversity and mixed signals, including pathways Pause and Rewind.
Energy technology transition always involves societal disruption and the best way to avoid the risk of stranded jobs, communities, and regions is to involve more people in progressing the multiple energy transition pathways emerging in all regions.
A step change in energy literacy, combined with the development of open user data platforms is essential to enable new feedback loops and sustain effective collaborations over many years. Active listening, strategic knowledge exchange, and deeper dialogue is needed; we can’t rely on machine-machine learning to do the job. More holistic thinking, integrated measurement frameworks, and new metrics are needed to track progress and to hold leaders to account.
JPC: Do you think groups such as the World Energy Council have the necessary influence to implement these changes on a global scale?
AW: Our locally deep and globally networked community convenes energy interests – whole industry, wider policy shapers, and stakeholders – in working together to discover, design, develop, and deliver clean, affordable, reliable, and equitable solutions.
Our members have co-developed a practical energy transitions leadership toolkit that can be used to convene diverse energy interests, support new collaboration, accelerate innovation, and inform policy processes. The power of community-based collaborations is illustrated in the human-centric stories of place-based energy transitions we have been collecting and showcasing through our partnership with BBC StoryWorks.
We will continue to listen, learn, and deepen the leadership dialogue on mobilising the role of people and diverse communities in securing more energy for billions of better lives and a healthy planet.
JPC: What will be the role of national governments and private companies in delivering some of the changes urged in the report?
AW: A more joined-up, integrated approach is essential. Energy connects the dots in recovery from crisis, repairing our planet, renewing our societies, and maintaining global peace. Energy development and transition are key to recovery from crisis, repairing our planet, renewing societies, and maintaining global peace.
Enabling diverse voices at all levels of society, clarifying choices, and developing new ways of collaborating are key to mobilising a new world energy movement. As responsible leaders, we cultivate transformational strategies that work across borders and sectors and involve all levels of society.
Our World Energy Trilemma Index provides an integrated and objective framework for managing national performance on energy security, affordability, and equity as well as environmental sustainability. Only by addressing each of these can humanity hope to secure more energy for billions of people across the world.
JPC: What are some of your aims for the future of the global energy industry?
AW: The future of energy cannot be predicted or controlled, but better energy futures can be imagined and co-created. Clean, affordable, reliable, and equitable solutions in energy are possible, but there is no free or one-size-fits-all quick win. It’s not as simple as swapping old technology for new or throwing money at the problem. The next big thing is not a global technology moon shot but a series of smaller, place-based steps. Think global, act local!
In closing the gap between global ambitions and local action, our organisation engages the power of community-based collaborations across the world. Our emphasis is not on a single energy revolution but on many.
The socio-politics and geopolitics of energy are important, messier than ever, and changing faster than ever, trying to keep pace with the acceleration in combinational technology innovation.
To avoid triggering a crisis of trust, a winner-takes all technology race to zero, or a threat to global peace, a new energy transition leadership mindset – around customer-centric energy services; integrated policy design; and community-led, systemic leadership interventions – is emerging.
In other words, we all benefit if we humanise energy; engage diversity; enable countries, companies and communities to learn with and from each other; and experiment with new and better ways to collaborate, coordinate, and co-create a clean and just global energy transition.