What it takes for the energy sector to lead the way to sustainability

Transforming the field will require boldness, collaboration and diversity of ideas

The Sustainability pavilion. The 130-metre wide canopy, called Terra, features 1,055 solar panels which will generate 4GWh of alternative energy per year, enough electricity to charge more than 900,000 mobile phones.
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We have entered 2021 with optimism, driven by increasing global commitment to sustainability, tackling climate change and increasing decarbonisation efforts, but we look ahead knowing there is still a lot of work to do to reach our collective goals.

The world is facing huge challenges. Climate change, globalisation, digitalisation and the global Covid-19 pandemic have placed governments, companies and societies in difficult circumstances. Climate change is the defining issue of this generation and the severe implications from global economic and societal implications must be countered.

Furthermore, demand for energy is growing and it is expected that by 2040, global electricity demand will rise by around 50 per cent, while around 800 million people still do not have access to energy.

But out of these challenges come opportunities. Governments, in particular, are using this moment to put in place plans and foster investment in developing greener and more sustainable economies, and we are seeing this momentum grow.

Sustainability is a core foundation of decarbonisation, and should be a primary consideration for any company or country. Though "sustainability" is a broad term, it has many applications, which can result in lower emissions and lower waste, but also lower costs and, ultimately, economic and social growth.

Wind turbines stand near the hydrogen electrolysis plant stands at Energiepark Mainz, operated by Linde AG, in Mainz, Germany, on Friday, July 17, 2020. Europe is pinning its green hopes on hydrogen in a plan that sees hundreds of billions of euros in investment flowing into the clean technology and fueling a climate-friendly economic recovery. Photographer: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg
Sustainable investments are becoming more popular not just for ethical reasons, but also because of their long-term profitability. Bloomberg

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out by the UN's 2030 Agenda provide a clear and practical path, one which ought to guide companies in their plans. Underscoring its own commitment to these goals, at the end of 2020 Siemens Energy launched its first annual sustainability report.

The SDGs and their related targets are fostering a new understanding of how economic development can be reconciled with social and environmental challenges, stimulating transformational change. It is necessary for governments, businesses, cities and civil society to work together and contribute to realising the SDGs.

The numerous benefits that can be gained from the adoption of greater sustainability are why events like the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2021, which commences this week, are so important. Knowledge and partnership are the two most important tools to reaching our climate and decarbonisation goals. Events like ADSW21 are vital, to bringing together diverse groups of stakeholders, from governments, financiers, energy producers, technology creators, utilities and educational institutions to foster understanding and find joint solutions.

In this complex and interconnected world, no one company or country can – or should – go it alone. We must collaborate to draw on each other’s strengths.

Energy companies can look at their plans through the lens of the 7th SDG: to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. Energy touches every part of society, from the energy used to power the machinery that extracts oil and gas and refines it, to the energy that powers our homes, infrastructure, businesses and personal devices.

Transformation requires partners across diverse industries ready to make bold decisions

The energy we use is transforming, from coal and other carbon intensive fuels, to renewables, such as solar and wind. This energy transition is gathering pace, as countries and companies around the world are increasingly switching to more decarbonised energy solutions, such as renewables.

This transition will evolve into a total transformation that will see the utilisation of new, decarbonised energy sources, such as green hydrogen, which has usages in a variety of applications from energy production to industrial manufacturing and chemicals production.

But this transformation requires bold partners across diverse industries, ready to make bold decisions and invest in innovation. From this transformation new technologies, new industries, new skills, new jobs and new economies will evolve. It is only by working together that we can leverage one another’s expertise and develop the innovative solutions for tomorrow.

At the same time, each country is at a different stage in the transition and will progress at different speeds. There is no magic bullet in the fight against climate change. Customised solutions are required to meet each unique set of circumstances, including financing, technology, access to resources or even location.

Some countries, including the UAE, are further along the transition than others, with clear long-term targets, funds allocated for investment and projects underway. From solar-powered green hydrogen to using artificial intelligence in managing power generation to using big data in managing oil and gas production efficiently, Gulf countries making consistent strides. These developments are forming the foundations on which to build new sustainable economies.

It is promising to see the importance that regional entities are placing on investing in decarbonising technologies, but more can always be done. We must, and will, work together across industries to create sustainable growth and innovation through diversity.

Dietmar Siersdorfer is the Middle East and UAE managing director at Siemens Energy