Op-Ed: “Why We Need to Discuss Energy Security”
Op-ed by Thomas Reinertsen, CEO, Hydrogen Mem-Tech, first published in Norway’s Trønderdebatt, February 8th, 2023.
One fine day, the planes taking off and landing at our local airport Værnes outside Trondheim will be electric or powered by hydrogen. Precisely for this reason, energy security and energy diversification should be even higher on the agenda.
The annual World Economic Forum in Davos finished a couple of weeks ago. It's often ridiculed how politicians and business elites touch down in Davos with their fossil-fueled private jets to solve the world's climate problems. But in a not-too-distant future, these planes could just as well run on battery power - or hydrogen. This is a concrete, practical illustration of an imminent transition: We are about to create a new and cleaner energy mix, which will also contribute to secure energy safety on a global level.
A tough, but necessary transition
In difficult times like these, filled with war, conflict and uncertainty, energy security is indeed crucial. Norway is currently Europe's largest energy supplier. Norwegians can be proud of a country that plays a central role compensating for the loss of Russian gas in Europe's energy mix.
But we must not become complacent. Long-term and sustainable measures in energy security and the diversification of energy sources are vital if we are to succeed in the necessary transformation. We must secure energy supplies and reduce carbon footprints – simultaneously.
The annual conference of the Norwegian Confederation of Business earlier in January made it clear that 2024 must be a year of action. We must do something, not just talk about it. We need to make some big decisions on our path forward with cutting emissions and create technological solutions that matter in the bigger picture. We must take longer steps to substantially lower our carbon footprint.
The debate should really focus on what our future energy mix will look like, and how we can make it as clean as possible. And we need to speed up. The Norway-based international investment bank Pareto’s director Lars Ove Skorpen was recently interviewed in Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv about how Norwegian offshore wind efforts are moving too slowly. “I miss larger volumes, more fields, and a faster pace,” he said. It's easy to agree.
Hydrogen is one of the solutions in the mix
We see this from the part of the pie chart in the future energy mix called hydrogen. At Hydrogen Mem-Tech, we're building hydrogen separators that can convert dirty gas into clean hydrogen. We represent Norwegian-developed technology with the whole world as a market, and immense potential in this crucial energy transformation.
I don't believe hydrogen alone is the solution. Or that hydrogen is a superior solution compared to other emission-free and renewable energy forms. I root for the mix: The sum of all good and clean energy forms. And that's precisely the point: Hydrogen, here in Norway, will be an important part of the mix, along with offshore wind and a renewed focus on hydropower. In addition, we're blessed with fantastic resources for carbon storage in Norway. We have suitable reservoirs, and we already have extensive experience within this field. For instance, at Sleipner out in the North Sea, we have stored CO2 since 1996.
The combination of natural conditions, experience, and expertise must be utilized to the fullest. Land wind and solar can be important contributions further south on the continent.
A sense of urgency is needed
We have a Norwegian saying that goes something like “many small streams make a big river”. What we need is not so much a “many small streams” approach, but to get to the river immediately: Create solid industrial and financially robust projects in all these areas. We need a sense of urgency to go all in and raise capital to test and develop technology and solutions at a much faster pace, and on a much larger scale, than is currently done. That's why Norway is seen as a slow mover in this race. Plenty of talk, not enough action.
It's crucial that we identify what Norway are best suited to do, and how we as a country can most effectively contribute to the future energy mix. As Norway has natural advantages and experience and know-how to take the lead in this transformation, it will be irresponsible not to take the lead.
All of this is very exciting, but it requires for all of us to step out of the small laboratories. We must experiment and test technology and solutions on a full scale, in large facilities and broad projects. Many good ideas die in the piloting phase, either due to a lack of funding or because it's difficult to test the ideas on a larger scale. Players across the entire value chain must be able to practice in real-time, as scaling is often the tricky part. The transitions are challenging from lab to pilot project, but even more so from small to large pilot. And finally, the enormous leap from a test facility to a commercial plant. Each block and each step become more and more costly.
More experimentation, please
Therefore, we urge large industrial players to dare to experiment more. Only this way we will move forward at a significantly higher speed than today. A lot can be said about the Mongstad initiative in Norway, often ridiculed due to an ambitious “moon landing” speech from Norway’s former Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg. But we must admit it was a very bold move and has provided a wealth of experience and competence that Norway, as an important energy provider, will benefit greatly from in the future.
Electric aircraft and hydrogen-powered engines, like those Airbus is working on, are proofs, if somewhat symbolic, that technological development, sustainability, and the willingness to experiment are interconnected. The mix of various energy forms is an important part of the solution. I see this as a joint effort: Both the leaders who met in Davos recently and Norway, in capacity of a large international energy provider, have a common cause and goal.
Even though we routinely express high ambitions to approach an emission-free society, we need to put action before words. We all must take responsibility to speed up the process.