The Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi, hosted by the Atlantic Council over January 11-13, provided an occasion for government, industry, and thought leaders to discuss the most pressing energy questions of 2019. Sentiments were positive overall, albeit environmental and energy scarcity concerns loomed large.
In front of an audience of 600, the conference leaders – who ranged from former heads of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to Khalid Al-Falih, Energy Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, spoke on issues covering Asia’s burgeoning energy demand, the future of OPEC, and the impending renewable energy transition.
In a scene-setting speech, former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz emphasized the perils of climate change and the mitigation and adaptation strategies needed to address them. Decarbonization and investment in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology – a thus far underpublicized and underutilized process -- stood out among his recommendations. Not only could progress in carbon capture, sequestration, and re-use help reverse some of the dangerous trends of global warming, they could also improve the reputation (and even pocketbooks) of those major carbon-emitting fossil fuel companies brave enough to integrate them with their day-to-day operations.
Conference speaker Musabbeh Al-Kaabi, CEO of Petroleum and Petrochemicals at Mubadala Investment Company, emphasized that “we keep saying oil and gas is not bad, emission is bad… We need to find the right technology that will minimize this in the long term.”
Yet, cost-effective methods of direct extraction and sustainable disposal systems for carbon remain underexplored. This critical area of climate change mitigation is being overshadowed by trendier developments related to renewables, Moniz argued, leaving it with limited interest and limited investors.
Growing energy demand in East and Southeast Asia is another hot topic for the year ahead. Asia and Oceania consumed 42% of global energy in 2016 – a figure which has no doubt increased over the past two years. As economic development spurs urbanization, increases disposable incomes, and improves market access, a new energy-hungry middle class is emerging.
But this otherwise laudable achievement is a double-edged sword. The economic rise of these societies has been – and continues to be – fueled by hydrocarbons. Increases in the standard of living naturally lead to heightened energy consumption, and with it carbon pollution.
As I wrote earlier this week, countries such as China are looking to diversify their energy mix. Driven by popular demands for cleaner air and the strategic necessity of energy security, carbon-intensive fuels such as coal are being swapped out for cleaner-burning gas and emissions-free renewables.
Wang Zhongying, Director General of the Energy Research Institute, National Development and Reform Commission, argued in a panel discussion that China has plans to reduce its oil consumption (apparently the PRC is not happy with the title of ‘world’s number one oil importer’). But with Brent crude prices at $60 per barrel and a transportation sector that has as many vehicles than the U.S. has people, China's energy transition to oil alternatives is slow going. Some Chinese entrepreneurs are finding that opportunities for low carbon investment are actually brighter in China’s backyard.
According to the panel, surrounding nations such as Japan, South Korea, and even India show tremendous promise for renewable energy startups and investment. Yet, a lack of concerted cooperation between these nations has left market transition in a state of limbo.
Beyond the tangible energy world of fossil fuels and solar panels, digitization is revolutionizing efficiency, particularly among power providers. Abdul Nasser Al Mughairbi, Senior Vice President of the Digital Team at Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC Group) conducted a presentation of their cutting-edge Oil & Gas 4.0 system.
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