Working towards a common energy-transition goal

28 November 2022

Published in partnership with

In the end, it went right to the wire. Just as it looked like the UN’s 27th Conference of the Parties (Cop27) would conclude without an accord, the weary delegates announced that they had reached a landmark agreement on setting up a fund to help compensate poorer nations for the economic and social destruction caused by climate change. 

The statement, two days after the Sharm el-Sheikh summit’s original 18 November end date, was a culmination of some 30 years of negotiations between developed economies and developing nations. The latter had long argued that the damage they have experienced from global warming should be paid for by richer countries responsible for the crisis in the first place.

Although far from perfect, the global ‘loss and damage’ fund was hailed as an important and symbolic step towards hitting the agreed target of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by 2030. It also marked the continuing engagement and collaboration by governments across the globe.

“We rose to the occasion,” said Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and president of Cop27 Sameh Shoukry. 

“We worked around the clock, day and night, but united in working for one gain, one higher purpose, one common goal. In the end, we delivered. We listened to the calls of anguish and despair.”

Private sector involvement

While Cop27 has been and will continue to be a policy-setting mechanism negotiated at the highest level, companies played a critical role during the conference. 

Firms representing a broad range of sectors, including Vodafone, Microsoft, Boston Consulting Group and Bloomberg, partnered with the event, and many more participated in the main conference and exhibition areas. 

Ultimately, governments understand that the private sector will lead the drive towards net zero. Without corporates worldwide investing in clean energy projects and technology, there is little hope that targets will be reached.

Five consistency points

A key supporter of Cop27 was Siemens Energy. Sharing its expertise through panels covering subjects as varied as the Mediterranean’s North-South Energy Partnership, improving power access in Africa by unlocking its green hydrogen potential, and overcoming the challenges of decarbonisation, the energy technology company played a pivotal role in discussions and thought leadership.

It also participated in the world leader’s summit at a roundtable discussing green hydrogen, reinforcing its positioning of energy transition at the heart of its strategy. 

Before the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, Siemens Energy president and CEO Christian Bruch outlined five points of consistency that his company considers to be unifying elements in the decarbonisation drive.

The first is the acceleration of renewables. Replacing conventional power generation systems with solar, wind, hydro and other forms of renewable energy is essential to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Despite a considerable increase in the overall share of renewables in the past three years on the back of ever-lowering costs and more efficient technology, more must still be done.

For example, the US needs to triple its share of renewable energy as a proportion of the energy mix by 2050 for the energy transition to succeed. The Asia-Pacific region, meanwhile, will have to increase this figure fourfold. 

Regional targets

In the Middle East, every country has now set ambitious targets to increase renewable energy. The likes of Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the UAE are aiming for renewables to account for up to 50 per cent of total production by 2030. To reach these objectives, almost all new power generation projects come in the form of renewables.

However, the impact of greener electricity production could be somewhat offset by continuing demand growth caused by an increasing global population and economic growth. 

In this context, the second point is the requirement for improved energy conservation measures, such as policies to incentivise the electrification of industry and transport. 

Regionally, the industrial electrification of energy-intensive industries is an optimal opportunity to reduce harmful emissions by harnessing electric boilers and/or electricity-based fuels. Future large-scale blue and green hydrogen production will also have a role to play in industrial processes.

Siemens Energy’s third point of consistency is improving electrical efficiency. The increase in renewable energy capacity and the growth in power capacity, in general, require significant investment in transmission and distribution networks. 

This is particularly important in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, where almost 25 per cent of the population has little to no access to electricity. 

The fourth point covers the requirement to use existing conventional power infrastructure to help bridge the gap between the fossil-fuelled economies of today and the net zero of tomorrow. 

Progress cannot be made in one step alone and requires a gradual transition. In the meantime, existing thermal plants can employ measures such as combined-cycle technology and carbon capture to make them as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible.

The energy transition is the biggest investment programme since the dawn of industrialisation. If governments, business and society work together, energy transition is a massive opportunity

Christian Bruch, Siemens Energy president and CEO

Mineral production

Finally, to achieve all of this, it is necessary to improve supply chains and increase the production of necessary minerals and rare earth metals required in net-zero technologies, such as lithium, nickel, cobalt and chromium. 

Bruch gives the example of a typical electric car, which requires six times more mineral inputs than one powered by an internal combustion engine. He also cites onshore wind plants, which need nine times more than a gas-fired power plant. 

If mineral production is not increased and geographically diversified, there is a risk of future supply bottlenecks.

In the Middle East, a good illustration of this is the potential future supply gap for electrolyser systems, and the anodes and cathodes typically made from metals such as zinc, nickel and lithium. 

MEED estimates that about 75GW of electrolyser production capacity will be required by 2030 to meet the demand for the raft of planned green hydrogen plants in the region alone, compared with a total global output capacity of just 8GW today.

Industrial decarbonisation alliance

All five consistency points make salient arguments. However, they can only be achieved with close cooperation between the private and public sectors. While the former can spearhead and implement the decarbonisation drive, the latter can provide the regulations and incentives to encourage these initiatives. 

The newly formed Alliance for Industry Decarbonization initiated by Siemens Energy and coordinated and facilitated by the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is an example of greater collaboration between the public and private sectors. 

The 28-member alliance – which encompasses a range of global energy, renewable, consulting and manufacturing companies – met for the first time during Cop27 to outline its joint vision and implementation plan. Its strategy focuses on six pillars and enablers that tie into the points of consistency: renewables, green hydrogen, bioenergy with carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), heat process optimisation, human capital and finance.

Only through this kind of stakeholder dialogue can the immense and existential challenges posed by global warming be overcome. Governments or companies acting in isolation will only achieve so much on their own. The points of consistency must be considered as a whole and in unison if the world’s climate objectives are to succeed.

As Bruch says: “The energy transition is the biggest investment programme since the dawn of industrialisation. If governments, business and society work together, energy transition is a massive opportunity. There is no excuse for waiting any longer.”

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