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For the UN climate summit Cop28, there is an aspiration and an obligation to come up with concrete actions.
We have a huge task ahead of us in combating global climate change, and the trilemma of making energy systems affordable, reliable and sustainable is now even more complex, given the geopolitical challenges and their economic ramifications.
If we have learned one thing from the past year, it is that energy security is no less important than its sustainability and affordability.
Expectations for Cop28 are high, not only because it will include the first global stocktake, but also because of the delicate geopolitical environment and the urgent need for implementation.
With a broad range of experience as a government minister, the founder of Masdar and the head of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), the Cop28 president-designate Sultan al-Jaber is well placed to lead this major gathering of policy- and decision-makers. And few countries are as well placed as the UAE to provide a conducive setting for such an important task.
Achieving net zero requires nothing less than policymakers, industry leaders and members of society working closely together to find solutions to how today's technologies can contribute to making an immediate step change in reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions while also ensuring energy resilience.
In parallel, we need to double down on our efforts to accelerate the next generation of future technologies that we expect will take us to net zero by 2050. Many of these are still in the prototype phase and need to be deployed on a larger and economic scale.
From renewable energy sources and electrolysers to solutions in electrification, automation and digitalisation, much of the technology required already exists. But these new technologies require additional investments in disruptive technologies such as power-to-X, and breakthroughs in long-duration storage and cyber-secure digital solutions, for productivity improvement and demand management.
This is why Breakthrough Energy and Siemens Energy launched the Energy Resilience Leadership Group at this year’s Munich Security Conference – to harness the power of startups and scale technologies that will make Europe less dependent on gas. It is also why Abu Dhabi is home to one of our four global innovation hubs – to co-create innovative energy transition solutions, such as carbon certificates using blockchain for petrochemicals products, with our partner Adnoc.
According to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, imminent and transformational change is required to safeguard the planet. Emissions need to be halved by the end of this decade to keep the 1.5 degrees Celsius target alive.
Decarbonising high-emitting sectors is especially critical to mitigating the impact of global warming. Steel, cement and oil and gas are three of the most carbon-intensive industries: their direct emissions represent more than 25 per cent of global CO2 emissions. These industries are responsible for partnering up and developing strategies and action plans to decarbonise industrial value chains.
The Alliance of Industry Decarbonisation, founded by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) and Siemens Energy, has already brought more than 35 companies together to begin building the critical mass of knowledge needed to create new solutions that will raise the efficiency of industrial processes and reduce carbon emissions.
We can support various industries by optimising their energy consumption, electrifying their heating requirements, or introducing green hydrogen into their processes.
In these rapidly changing times, marked by divisiveness and extreme economic headwinds, experts from all relevant fields must pool their resources for the common good. We need platforms founded in the spirit of cooperation and with the aim of rapid implementation.
The past year has revealed the critical role that energy security plays in maintaining global stability. Strong alliances and immediate action by policymakers, industry leaders and members of society are needed to create an affordable, reliable and sustainable energy system. It is clear that there is no sustainability or affordability without energy security.
Five key pillars of a successful energy transition
> Expansion of renewables
There is a strong need to expand renewables by 2050 if a climate crisis is to be averted. Saudi Arabia announced in December 2022 that it will invest $150bn in renewables. Recent regulations in the US and Europe, such as the Inflation Reduction Act and REpowerEU, set the stage for the exponential growth needed to achieve these goals.
> Improve energy efficiency
A continuous increase in energy demand due to economic growth and population increase requires greater electrification of industrial processes or transport accompanied by major innovation efforts. For example, by installing our high-efficiency gas turbine in its aluminium smelter process, Emirates Global Aluminium could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent, equivalent to planting more than 17 million trees a year.
> Strengthen the grid
Increasing the share of renewables and boosting electrification requires more robust grids within and across countries and regions. This is particularly challenging for developing countries – electrification rates in some African countries are as low as 11 per cent. High-voltage direct current links can be established to connect continents and countries, supporting the efficient transmission of electricity from where it is abundantly generated to where it is actually needed. Significant efforts are being made in this regard to connect the electricity produced from offshore wind farms to points of consumption on land.
> Prepare conventional power infrastructure for energy transition
Existing infrastructure requires service, modernisation and upgrades to increase efficiency and lower emissions if we are to keep the balance between security of supply and sustainability. Current technologies can enable the shift from coal to gas, and green hydrogen or other fossil-free fuels can be developed on a large scale once ready and available. We are already seeing this in several European countries, including the UK, Greece, Poland and Romania, where thousands of megawatts of coal-fired power plants are being shut down and replaced with highly efficient combined-cycle power plants that will reduce CO2 emissions today, with the opportunity to run on green hydrogen or carbon capture systems by the end of the decade.
> Get a handle on the supply chain and the necessary minerals
The energy transition requires more materials and minerals. Some people look at the energy trilemma and add a fourth dimension of the supply chain, coining a new term – the ‘energy quadrilemma’. Considering the geopolitical implications unfolding on the global stage, this challenge must be at the centre of our focus.
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