Reflections from International Energy Week

Every year the entire energy community comes together for the International Energy Week. It is the biggest energy meeting in the world following COP and provides a chance for industry leaders to meet with government officials, environmental NGOs, scientists and academics. During the week delegates are able to share ideas, debate on key issues and discuss the future of energy.

We sent one of our Grantham Scholars, Ioanna Kalospyrou, to this year’s event in London. Read on to find out about her thoughts on International Energy Week 2024.

My Experience at International Energy Week 2024

Following COP28 which exposed the troubling news that parties are falling short in meeting their Paris Agreement targets and whereby the First Global Stocktake was introduced, the much-anticipated International Energy Week (IEW) 2024 took place in London from the 27th of February to the 1st of March. I had the great honour of attending the event, initially as a selected student volunteer and subsequently as a delegate.

Exploring Energy Transition

The key theme of IEW 2024 was energy transition. Specifically, how can it be realistically accelerated for the Paris Agreement goals and Net Zero aspirations to be achieved. The conference began with COP28 reflections. There was also an investigation into the ways energy transition and decarbonisation can be achieved more rapidly and efficiently. The focal point of attention revolved around none other than hydrocarbons. In this context, a very interesting debate took place between Grahame Buss from Just Stop Oil and Dr David Whitehouse, CEO of OEUK. The former recommended that the most effective way for the transition to renewable energy and decarbonisation is to halt investments in hydrocarbons at once. This would allow resources to be immediately utilised to carve the path to renewable energy domination.

The latter, however, supported that a successful energy transition is a gradual one. This involves the field of oil and gas being steadily altered in a way that the workforce and communities feel actively involved in the process. He characteristically said: “A successful energy transition is one that is delivered with people and communities, not done to them”. Indeed, the most impactful change is always gentle and the people’s perception of it is valuable. On the other hand, though, is there enough time for a gradual transition of the sort or do the global warming limitations and Global Methane Pledge call for firm action?

How Imminent is the End of the Oil Era?

Russel Hardy, the CEO of Vitol provided an overview of trends in the prices of crude oil and derivatives. He highlighted that the crude oil price has remained roughly stable this past year. This is despite rapid changes in the political scenery in certain areas around the globe. Alongside him in the same panel sat Farhat Bengdara, the Chairman for the National Oil Corporation of Libya. Libya’s oil reserves are deemed to last for at least 300 more years.

This prompts the question: just how imminent is the end of the oil era? This is a pertinent question considering countries like Libya still possess significant oil wealth. A discussion was held to address this concern. Its focus was on how to potentially produce hydrocarbons and minerals in a natural and sustainable way to reduce emissions. A new era of metals and minerals super-cycles is on the brink of starting.

The Social Aspect of Energy Transition

On the second day of IEW the primary focus lay on the human and social dimensions of the energy transition. Prominent energy leaders such as Greg Jackson, founder and CEO of Octopus Energy noted that the current energy industry is fixated on supply without much interest in formulating demand. However, in the energy transition journey, how demand is shaped due to the habits of the consumers is equally important to the way in which the supplied energy is generated. Sustainable habits in homes can go a long way.

More often than not though, the sustainable choice is not financially appealing or viable for the consumer. For instance, a large number of homes in the UK lack appropriate insulation or voltage requirements for a heat pump to be effective. Electric vehicles are also too expensive for the majority of the population. It is the government and businesses that need to make the sustainable choice an attainable one. This can be achieved primarily by providing more affordable choices and effectively demonstrating, through marketing campaigns, the significant environmental impact these choices have, along with potential long-term financial benefits.

At this point, opinions were divided. Some individuals supported that if the infrastructure is there and sufficient information is provided to the consumer they should be given the freedom to choose the sustainable option which they are highly likely to do. Others however, suggested that once the infrastructure available is optimised technology and price-wise, the sustainable lifestyle facilitating the energy transition within the home should be carefully enforced through policy.

Renewable and Nuclear Energy

Furthermore, some more technical discussions took place about renewables, nuclear and innovation sparking the energy transition. In the renewable energy front, penetration of energy from distributed energy resources (DERs) to the grid is a difficult task. This is made easier through the introduction of Local Energy Markets (LEMs). LEMs support the physical grid infrastructure while offering flexibility to the consumers. However, there is still a significant journey ahead in formulating community-centric LEMs across the distribution grid. The main obstacle is regulation and policy as supported by both Claire Dykta, Chief Strategy Officer of ESO and Dr Jemma Green, Co-Founder & Executive Chairman of Powerledger. Policy at the moment does not sufficiently cover the interaction between the transmission and distribution grids and their adjacent energy markets.

On another note, lengthy nuclear power discussions debuted in this year’s IEW. It was noted by multiple presenters that the way forward is through the utilisation of small nuclear reactors. Moreover, the repurposing of existing infrastructure to support the nuclear revolution was deemed necessary according to Kirsty Gogan, founding director and Co-CEO of Terra Praxis. Finally, in a highly anticipated keynote speech by Anna Koivuniemi, Head of Google Deepmind Institute, the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the reshaping of energy was presented. There is no doubt that in the future AI will be utilised both for optimising existing technology and flexibility facilitation.

Overall I found International Energy Week to be a very thought-provoking event. It clearly showcased the worry of world leaders of the energy industry for the future and the climate. The realisation has been made that there is no more time to waste. The discussions were fruitful, action plans have effectively been put forward and hopefully, action will be taken promptly.

Credit for all images: Ioanna Kalospyrou