Energy Transition

We have the tech for net-zero. Now we must scale it up to hit the tipping point

Meeting 2050 net-zero targets requires us to step up the deployment of low-carbon solutions across industries.

Meeting 2050 net-zero targets requires us to step up the deployment of low-carbon solutions across industries. Image: Reuters/Todd Korol

Arnaud Pieton
CEO, Technip Energies
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Innovation, collaboration and investment must be brought to bear to produce multiple net-zero solutions.
  • Decarbonization requires a range of solutions including hydrogen, carbon capture, electrification and energy efficiency – in combination, not competition.
  • Successful scale-up can unlock a virtuous cycle of progress towards net-zero goals.

Political and business leaders will be converging on the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting with the conclusions of COP28 still ringing in their ears. If there is one thing December’s climate summit made clear, it is that meeting 2050 net-zero targets requires us to step up the deployment of low-carbon solutions across industries.

While new groundbreaking discoveries are always possible, the core technologies we need already exist. To respond to the scale of the challenge, however, we must rise to the challenge of scale. And we must do so with a range of approaches in combination, not competition.


How is the World Economic Forum facilitating the transition to clean energy?

While our engineering teams are working continuously on the development of infrastructure solutions in fields such as green hydrogen, floating offshore wind and e-fuels for aviation and maritime, these are still some years from maturity and large-scale viability.

Meanwhile, the decarbonization of existing industries and energy production – through efficiency gains, electrification, carbon capture and other proven approaches – can make a significant and timely contribution to the course correction we need to get global emissions back on the right trajectory.

Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) in particular has the potential to decarbonize sectors whose electrification is hampered by prohibitive costs. It can also cut greenhouse emissions from hard-to-abate industries such as chemicals, cement and steel, which together account for 20% of the global total. To align with the IEA’s 2050 Net Zero Roadmap, we will need to capture 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2 annually by 2030, compared with 43 million today.

The demand is growing. From the vantage point of Technip Energies’ six decades working with industrial and energy players, the change underway is striking. When weighing project designs, our customers routinely demand an ambitious decarbonization strategy; this was not the case even two years ago.

We have the technology to decarbonize, and we have the talent, in what is becoming a new golden age for engineers. Graduates are increasingly drawn to companies where they know they can make a positive difference, while mid-career training investment keeps the whole workforce on mission.

So why, in that case, are our economies not yet on a clear path to meet climate goals on time? Achieving scale for the coming waves of low-carbon technology is now the biggest and most critical challenge we face collectively. Nearly half the solutions we need are not yet cost-competitive for widespread adoption, according to The State of Climate Action, a white paper published weeks before COP28 by the World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group.

Even when the theoretical economics are there, successful scale-up is anything but automatic. The leap from pilot to industrial investment requires fresh innovation of its own, to deliver cost efficiencies critical to the project’s success. It also needs coherent regulatory and financial support – not least through carbon pricing – to align incentives and offset part of the risk for early movers.

And that is not all. Just as critical to large project feasibility is the key players’ capacity to forge collaborations and whole new ecosystems outside their habitual circles. The necessity of collaboration will be in plainer view this year, when the Northern Lights project begins storing millions of tonnes of captured CO2 beneath the North Sea, at a cost rendered viable by the gathering of emitters and solution providers in hubs with common infrastructure.

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Meeting our shared climate challenge will need determined, simultaneous progress on many decarbonization approaches. Their deployment at scale, and at a socially acceptable cost, requires the alignment of many stars – technological, regulatory, economic and collaborative – to achieve mission-critical competitiveness across the ecosystem.

The good news is that beyond the tipping point, things get easier. Projects are built and enter production, creating volume effects that drive further improvements in cost, supply-chain maturity and economic certainty. Investment decisions accelerate, more projects are built, and so the loop forms.

Scale, then, should be our central focus as we innovate, collaborate and invest to bring multiple solutions to maturity. If – but only if – we unlock this virtuous cycle, our progress towards net-zero can become increasingly self-sustaining.

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Energy TransitionClimate and NatureDavos Agenda
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