Energy Transition

Here are 3 ways to speed up Europe's energy transition

Wind energy is a key technology when it comes to the energy transition, but we must not underestimate the scale of change needed to deliver a true energy transition.

Wind energy is a key technology when it comes to the energy transition, but we must not underestimate the scale of change needed. Image: Equinor media bank/Ole Jørgen Bratland

Anders Opedal
President and Chief Executive Officer, Equinor
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Energy Transition

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Europe's energy infrastructure has served the continent for decades, but today a change is needed.
  • While attitudes are changing fast and technology is developing, Europe and the wider world are still acting too slowly on the energy transition.
  • To preserve jobs and energy security while fighting climate change, cooperation, new infrastructure and constructive approaches to new technologies are key.

Energy is of vital importance to our lives, jobs, communities and nations — ensuring continued access to it as we decarbonize our economies is key. In Europe, 3 to 4 million people work in industries where emissions are hard to abate such as steel, cement and chemical sectors. Behind this large number of people there are families and local communities that depend on these industries’ ability to decarbonize.

To succeed in the energy transition has never been more important, nor more difficult. There must be a balanced approach to affordability, security of energy supply and decarbonization to ensure public acceptance and cost-efficiency. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, the energy crisis and increased geopolitical tension have demonstrated the short-term shocks and challenges that need to be handled while not losing sight of the longer-term necessity of decarbonization.

One single LNG tanker can transport a year's worth of energy produced by 88 turbines.
One single LNG tanker can transport a year's worth of energy produced by 88 turbines. Image: Equinor

Every four to five days, a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) tanker leaves Norway’s Hammerfest, as far north as you can get in mainland Europe. One such tanker carries around 1 TWh of gross energy, the same amount of energy as the UK offshore wind farm Sheringham Shoal, with 88 turbines, produces in a year.

People who say that the energy transition is easy are simply not right. We are faced with the task of replacing a highly profitable high density energy system with a lower profitability low density one. In essence that is the cost of the energy transition and consequently decarbonization, and to succeed on an acceleration on a global scale, we need to see a common approach to a new energy system.

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Accelerating the energy transition

This is urgent. Climate change is happening before our eyes and the pace of the energy transition is too slow. We must provide energy security to people and businesses while we reinvent the energy system. Because it is in fact a reinvention.

Here are three of the most important ways we can speed up the energy transition:

1. Let the market decide on technology

We must reduce the carbon footprint in today's energy systems. When shaping the energy systems of tomorrow, we need to be technology-open. We must, as the UN climate panel reports say, use the entire toolbox.

Coal needs to be phased out. We must decarbonize oil production. Natural gas must be made cleaner through carbon capture and safe offshore storage, and we must develop renewable energy much faster than today. The energy transition does not belong to one technology, to one company, to one country.

Germany has shifted its strategy from a “green hydrogen only” to see the role of blue hydrogen and CCS. This is wise — it considers the true nature of a transition. Governments should set targets and directions, not pick winners and losers.

2. Invest in infrastructure

Europe’s common energy infrastructure has served us well. In the coming decades, the continent must invest in the infrastructure it needs for the energy system of tomorrow.

We see the need for a pipeline for CO2 from Europe to CO2 storages on the Norwegian continental shelf, and a hydrogen pipeline from Norway to Europe. And to succeed with renewables, we need to expand the power grid. There will be no energy transition without energy transmission.

These are large projects and investments. The energy industry must be willing to do its part,

finance investments and take risk. But we need to have a broader discussion on risk and how we share that risk across the industry, across geographies and between the public and private sectors.

3. Work together and build trust

We need to collaborate closely. But more importantly, we need to act together. We must understand and respect each other’s roles. Projects will require clarity of roles and expectations between governments, institutions and industry. Long term investments need stable and predictable framework conditions. It will be difficult to navigate the energy transition. And even more difficult if taxes and regulations constantly change.

Too often, the industry points to lack of framework conditions while authorities point to lack of will on the part of business interests. This is counterproductive. No one will be able to make such investments alone. Not industries, maybe not even countries. We need to plan, invest and build together.

While the challenge is significant, there is reason to be optimistic. Already, we see significant progress in mindsets, policies, projects and technologies. Delivering a balanced energy transition is not a revolution, nor a switch — it is a transition. As part of that large-scale transition, we need to develop enough clean energy, new industries and jobs. By letting the market lead on technology, investing in infrastructure and working collectively, we will make that transition a success.

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Energy TransitionDavos AgendaEuropean Union
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