Technology is a key enabler of the energy transition but a new approach to funding and “densifying” renewable energy is needed if global decarbonisation goals are to be met, participants in a recent International Energy Week Conference panel agreed.

Shell’s chief technology officer Yuri Sebregts said at the event in London that a number of key technologies are already available and being scaled up, but he signalled that there is still a long way to go if targets are to be met.

“All existing technologies can collectively maybe decarbonise a quarter of the economy… before you get to the more difficult sectors,” Sebregts said.

“We’ll need floating offshore wind, for instance, to be able to get more carbon-neutral electricity in the system”, he said, adding that there’s a “long road ahead” in the aviation industry, as it is more complex that other sectors.

Sebregts said that the greatest challenge facing the energy transition is a matter of what he referred to as density.

“Essentially, natural gas and nuclear are dense energy technologies, you don’t need an awful lot of surface space to create a lot of energy,” he explained. “Whereas bio-based energies or solar photovoltaics, you need a lot of surface area to have enough energy as they’re not as dense.

“If you’re in Southern California, that’s not a problem as there’s plenty of space for that many people. But for Tokyo or Mumbai, this is a huge issue. There is no way you can locally create enough energy. It has to be shipped in.”

Renewable energy currently does not come in what Sebregts called a “form that you can ship around the world”, adding that technologies that can “densify the energy so that it can be shipped to where people needed it is going to be the biggest challenge”.

He cited Shell’s partnership with Kawasaki Heavy Industries and others in the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain pilot project as one example of how industry is working to “densify energy”.

The project shipped its first cargo of liquid hydrogen from Australia to Japan, arriving in Kobe on 25 February, using the world’s first liquid hydrogen carrier vessel, Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ Suiso Frontier.

There is, however, much that can be done with today’s existing technologies with greater funding support, according to climate equity venture group Beyond Net Zero’s managing director Rhea Hamilton.

“I agree that there’s still some things we need to solve. That said, I think there’s a lot of technology today that can be scaled,” Hamilton said during the discussion.

“To go faster, we need a lot of capital to flow into the sector. Estimates are somewhere between three and a half to 9 trillion dollars per year that’s going to need to be invested,” she said, adding that larger investment pools are needed for technology and infrastructure projects.

Digitalisation of operations can also provide leverage for accelerating decarbonisation, typically by providing more transparency and driving operational efficiency, Hamilton pointed out.

“We’re starting to use data more effectively, but I think there’s a big opportunity to use data to operate in a very different way,” she said.

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