Why perfect is the enemy of the (very) good in the energy transition

This article, by Iman Hill, IOGP Executive Director, was recently published on LinkedIn

Iman Hill, IOGP Executive Director

I’ve always said that when it comes to innovation, perfect is the enemy of the (very) good.

At the recent World Economic Forum meeting at Davos, decarbonization technologies and the need to accelerate them was on the agenda. Given that I have been talking about this subject at APPEA and the World Gas Conference recently, I thought it apt to add my views.

In a nutshell, the Paris goals are achievable with the technologies that exist today, but we need to acknowledge that none of us can do it alone.

If we wait for silver bullet solutions we can miss the opportunities to make progress with what we already have. And as we sit and wait around for game-changing solutions to solve everything, it will ultimately lead to ‘game over’.

Take nuclear fusion for example. Some see this as something of a holy grail in energy. But it is unlikely to be deployed at scale before 2050, and we can’t afford to wait that long.

That’s why CCUS is so important. It offers an opportunity to make a difference now, in our transition to a low carbon system.

From 40 MTPA today, the IEA’s net zero emissions by 2050 pathway assesses that the world needs to capture 4 GT of CO2 by 2030 and 7.6 GT CO2 by 2050.

Put simply, by 2030, which is only 8 years away, we need to store 100 times more CO2 globally than we have already! Put this into the context of the recent IPCC report that frames this as ‘now or never’, achieving that goal is a very tall order.

But, the real change that needs to occur to deliver on its potential is not in the technology itself, but in the ecosystem that supports it.

And that’s where IOGP comes in. Working with a global Membership that develops good practice that can be instantly deployed, we believe we provide the shortest and fastest route to the adoption of tech innovation and recommended practice on the energy frontline.

To help CCUS (and hydrogen, another key technology) deliver on its promise we’re following three principles.

The first is collaboration, which is a prerequisite for innovation in our industry due to the complexity of the energy transition, and the fact that no one has all the answers.

Collaboration must go beyond the industry too. It requires policy makers and organisations working very closely together to define any remaining hurdles, identify the best technological solutions, and establish the most efficient financial supports.

Second is maintaining a multidisciplinary, portfolio approach given that the most attractive new solutions may be found at the interface of several different disciplines, such as between the energy and digital sectors.

As innovation can be an uncertain process, we also need to ensure that innovation policy frameworks are balanced between potentially competing sectors and approaches, and are accompanied by investment in basic research and robust intellectual property rules.

And finally we have flexibility.

Because the portfolio of low-carbon technologies may change as technology progresses and transition pathways evolve, and we need to continuously monitor and adapt to them.

That means we should never take a narrow view or place all our bets on only a few technologies, and risk losing out on other ideas that could really make a change.

The transition remains a challenging task, but I’m confident that if we stick to our principles and focus on delivering the already very good solutions available to us, rather than waiting for the perfect ideals of the future, we’ll get there much quicker.

This article is also published on LinkedIn.

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