Framing Energy Transition

I’m dissatisfied with the term Energy Transition. Everyone’s doing it, but they’re all doing something different. So, I’ve been working on a framework for describing what’s going on.

Much of my network is concerned with Oil and Gas and there is this term “Energy Transition” banded about. Which it seems they define as –

“What we are doing now won’t work in the future. Let’s find ways to apply our skills to ANYTHING new and hey-presto, that must be energy transition”

As a definition it is not helpful. So I am looking for a different way of classifying things. This is what I have so far.

Meta Industries

Firstly, I took the word Energy and examined it. That led me to realise that it is really one of a few “meta-industries” that provide the fundamental requirements for our world. Energy being one. Others include things such as Shelter, Food and, Transport. Each of these meta-industries have alternative outputs which can be used to provide their utility. For instance, Energy, output can be fulfilled by Oil, Gas, Coal, Electricity, etc. You get the picture. It’s the same for the others meta-industries.

Meta Industries in transition

Each Meta industry has alternative outputs which are, somewhat, interchangeable and can achieve the primary goal of supply.

Each of these alternatives outputs have a supply chain of interconnected industries that will be impacted by a switch between alternatives. Such a switch will also require modification of consumption activities. i.e. switching more of the Meta Industry “Energy” output from Oil to Electricity requires electric vehicles, which require batteries etc.

I think talking about working in “Energy Transition” is almost meaningless. Energy Transition is an outcome created by other activities. These activities are things you can work on. Energy Transition is not a thing in itself but a description of what happened. It would be the equivalent of saying you work in “Energy Profitability”.

Working Up, Working Down

This thinking has led me to a framework around each alternative supply chain (working down) and from each “traditional” industry (working up).

To explain, the Oil Industry is a component of the “Energy” supply chain, but is also a component of the “Fertiliser” supply chain which is part a “Food” Meta Industry output alternative.

It is difficult to analyse the “oil industry” in isolation as it gets caught up in all it’s supply chains from energy to chemicals to road construction to transportation. I propose that we can simplify the analysis by looking down from a fundamental Energy Meta Industry.

There are 4 Industry groups impacted in a transition between alternative outputs of a Meta Industry. E.g. the switch from Oil to Electricity.

  • A: Industries that will cease to be needed
  • B: Industries that mitigate the impact of (A) industries until they do
  • C: Industries that will replace them
  • D: Industries that do not need to change at all

Industries that die and ones that help them pass peacfully

The (A) industries are unwelcome but necessary for a while. The goal should be to make them obsolete as soon as possible.

This removal creates economic opportunity:

  • To reduce the environmental impact until they do (for instance by reducing unnecessary emissions)
  • As facilities are removed from service, activities for dismantling the infrastructure will flourish
  • Professional services for financing, operating, and advising in this space.

The reducing capacity of (A) industries will lead to reduced scale economies and higher cost of capital.

Temporary mitigating industries emerge

The (B) industries are temporary, they will somehow clean up the unavoidable impact that (A) industries have until they are closed down. Carbon scrubbers that sort of thing.

The doom-spiral for doomed industries

Even if they are doomed, (A) industry projects will still be required to be around for a time. But they will also need to execute unpopular projects with loads of political risk. They will have higher cost of capital. They will carry increased costs from compliance, regulatory charges, and penalties. They will need to pay for a new input cost – (B) industries. They will have higher operational costs. They will find it hard to recruit and retain staff so labour costs will increase. These increased costs will lead to increased output prices. This will cause further reduction in demand for their product. Scale economies will kick in for competitive substitutes. It will become a downward spiral for the old, and an upward whirlwind for the new.

New industries emerge as innovation accelerates

The (C) industries are the up and coming replacements. They will likely be easier to finance, enjoy tax breaks and subsidies. They will also benefit from scale-up, learning economies and rapid innovation. They are likely to employ modern technology such as autonomous vehicles, AI, 3D printing and big data from the start. They will be the foundation of the 4th industrial revolution.

Some things stay the same

The (D) industries are the ones with very little impact on the environment that don’t need to change in this Meta Supply chain. But may be impacted by due to interference from other Meta Industry transitions.

Meta Industries need to be analysed seperately

This lens applies to all the Meta Industries, and can help disentangle the analysis.

Of course there are interconnected implications, because if the Oil Industry is a type (A) industry for energy, it may be type (D) for, say, fertiliser manufacturing. So even if it is eliminated from the Energy Meta Industry, it may not be from the Food one. But the implications of the changing cost of production may have interesting implications for fertiliser pricing and availability.

Two brand new Meta Industries

On top of this there are two more new Meta Industries. These meta industries don’t seem to function well with our current rules, regulations, incentives and rewards. To get them to function we’ll need some changes to the economic rules of the game.

Meta Industry 1: Coping with Climate Change. As sea levels rise and storms increase there will be activities required to deal with this. From insurance, to design, to retro-fit conversions, to disaster recovery.  Meta Industry Output is “resilience”.

Meta Industry 2: Cleaning the biosphere. There are technologies being worked on that can remove harmful gasses from the air, can rehabilitate rain forests, rewild habitats etc.  Meta Industry Output is “Biosphere Maintenance”

The problem with these two Meta industries is that it’s not clear who would pay. In an individualist capitalist society it is in no one person’s interest to pay for this, but we will all benefit from it if it occurs. We have moved away from socialist policies for the common good for a long time, but maybe these industries will require us to return to them – and on a global scale.

We must act together or not at all

Climate saving behaviour is binary and it’s global. We’re either all in, or all out. You cannot get off the bus or sit this one out.

As a species we have been very good at creating multiple view points on many topics. Each side convinced that they are right. History being written by the victors and the untrodden path left shrouded in what-ifs.

With the Internet we have “culture wars” where no choice is made but factions live side by side (with various degrees of friction) and multiple opinions matter.

While there are a few points of view on climate change, the science seems to be clear. But then not everyone believes in science. Most engineers believe in science. But not all the ones I know choose to believe climate scientists. They explain to me (with no data) that forces bigger than us must be doing it (volcanoes, solar weather etc.).

Many don’t believe in religion. Whether they see the irony in being scientific, rejecting religion as hocus pocus but then assigning climate change to a “force bigger than us that we can’t understand” I’m not sure.

We cannot have co-existing points of view on climate and succeed. We, as a species are either for cleaning up our act, or we are not. There can be no compromise. To be successful with a path of modifying the atmosphere the vast majority of the world will need to act. It is not a personal choice, it is a collective one.

The world seems to be increasingly insisting that we need to clean up our act. Whether “right” or “wrong” does not matter, it looks like it is happening. There will be a battle for public opinion but will not be national. It will be global.

Will Peace Keeping Forces, may become environmental enforcers working at the behest of the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, WHO or goodness knows? Perhaps the IPCC will mobilise an army to takeover polluting plants and shut them down.

I’ve been a banging the drum for a technology led 4th industrial revolution for years, but I now feel we will have a technologically enabled, climate led one.

The implications of technologies such as AI, Autonomous Vehicles, Remote Sensing, Big Data etc. means that the outcomes will be similar to those I’ve written about before but they will be a by-product. I’ve realised the optimisation function has changed, or it was always this and I’ve just woken up to it.

Change is hard, Business case for survival is hard – screw it let’s cut costs

BA still can’t get operational IT right. The 4th Industrial Revolution has been delayed due to myopic business cases. I suspect BA as a large encumbant in a stagnating industry suffers from this. Fighting climate change will change the calculus and global enforcement of new laws, and what is viewed as acceptable behaviour will require a rethink on spread-sheet optimisation.

When my focus was solely on the digitalisation aspects of the 4th industrial revolution, I wrote a story about BA in 2017 [link], and then again in 2018 [link]. On both occasions I highlighted both how fundamental “Operational Information Technology” was to the heart of the business (rather than a support function) and how “business-case” led decisions had led to bad outcomes.

My friend Krzysztof [link] talks about technical debt  and how, like fast food, it’s occasionally acceptable – but in the long-term will kill you. He speaks of this in the context of software development, but I think it could equally be applied to deferred and missed modernisation opportunities for operational systems.

I thought BA had got the message, and then this:

https://www.theguardian.com/business/nils-pratley-on-finance/2022/mar/31/ba-investors-as-much-as-customers-deserve-explanation-for-it-woes

Change is hard

BA said they would change, and I assume they tried. Just goes to show, change is harder to achieve than it looks. The first step is for leadership to acknowledge that change is required, but implementing that change can be difficult, especially if most of the reason for bad outcomes is their own inability to admit to blind spots. Add to that some bad decision making processes (and possibly some autocratic opinoins) and this is what happens.

Diversity is often talked about but not always understood. Building “Cognitive Diversity” into leadership decisions is challenging, especially when – in order to reach new decisions – the fundamental value decision frameworks need to be challenged. My friend Csaba over at ICQ Global [link] works extensively in this area. If anyone has a line into BA’s management, they might pass on his number.

This is the digitalisation problem. It comes down two factors:              

  • cost justification cases for the SURVIVAL of companies cannot be made due to an inability to demonstrate a return on investment. (daft when you think about it)
  • cases for cutting flexibility and reducing performance on the grounds of cost saving are quickly approved and implemented.

The result is, no digitalisation, no change and a crash course in crisis management. I think this all stems from most “business case” and ROI calculations assuming that the business environment will remain static and everyone will wait around until you can educate senior management and make sense of their digital investment opportunities.

Innovation will be driven by decarbonisation

With the race to decarbonise the atmosphere well and truly on – goals such as electrification and energy transition will impact whole swathes of supply chains.

Digitalisation and the wider adoption of 4th Industrial Revolution technologies will be a prerequisite for survival. The purpose will no longer be to boost short-term profit, but to achieve outcomes that enable companies to survive. It will be interesting to watch how myopic business cases will be overcome.

Perhaps there is a case for saying that financial returns are a hygiene factor and should have a target optimal. Maximisation – for this phase of the transition – should perahaps be focussed elsewhere.

How are you going to hire, train, incentivise and manage the performance of the leaders we now need in place?

Outlook for 2022

Inflation, oil price shock, government stopping a large tech company being sold to America, the prospect of war with Russia, wind-fall taxes and the French stopping the British going on holiday. Break out the prawn cocktails, sit back and enjoy the 1970’s.

This site has discussed energy transition before and it is interesting that Oil prices have reached levels not seen since 2014 (some would say predictably); valuations of public oil and gas companies and the willingness to invest in projects are low.

In 2021 the Bestem Network held a think-tank evening where industry, finance, consulting and entrepreneurial leaders discussed these and other issues. It is only the beginning of Feb and at least three of the wild-cards identified are starting to appear.

The notes from the dinner are now available, please download your free copy here.

Download here: LINK

It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it……

This post is about competence, capability, and behaviour. Three words that many people are comfortable using but ones for which, when asked for an explanation of meaning, I have uncovered hundreds of different underlying concepts.

I’ve found that words really matter because they shape the way people think and behave. I’ve found that people can use the same words but mean different things. This gets in the way of organising group activity.

I pay more attention than many people I know to this. I take time to clarify and develop shared understanding. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in many countries and cultures. Maybe it’s because I was trained in solution selling early in my career. Maybe I’m a pedant. I don’t know.

My roles in sales, marketing and as a consultant have presented me with opportunities to interact with hundreds of different companies across different continents and to observe their approaches to structuring work. I find it fascinating to uncover why things are the way they are, and how to make progress in different settings.

I find that people are often unaware of their own assumptions – what they believe to be objective truth is probably only so within an accepted framework, and that framework can sometimes be just an opinion. Maybe it isn’t accepted by others.

I have found that with careful choice of words it’s possible to influence individual performance and create improved group outcomes.

So here is my simple definition of competence, capability, and behaviour.

Competence

This is something that an individual person can do. They have a level of competency ranging from “incompetence” to “mastery”. An example might be “carpentry” – and may consist of sub-competencies such as “joint making”, “cutting to size”, and “veneering”. Competence is a combination of knowing what to do, the skill to do it, the number of times you’ve done it before (accumulated practice), and how recent the last time you did it was.

Capability

This is something that an organisation can do. In a one-person company it’s essentially the same as competence. It is strongly correlated with competency in a lone-wolf role such as rain-making sales. In other areas, capability relies on the successful organisation of different competencies brought by more than one person. In these circumstances an organisation can create capabilities that no single person is competent to perform on their own.

Behaviour

This is the “manner” in which work is performed. Are people polite to each other? Does a person have “presence” and “gravitas”? An organisation can exhibit collective behaviour – which is related to but not the same as culture, another word often understood differently. An individual can exhibit behaviour – which is related to but not the same as personality.

In both the case of capability and of competence it is possible for organisations and individuals to exhibit different behaviours but still be equally capable and competent. In this case they may well achieve different outcomes, especially if they must influence others.

What do you think?

What do you think of these definitions? How can you help improve them? Please comment here or email me directly.