David Linden wants to clear up any lingering doubts that a fundamental change is under way in the oil and gas industry.

The energy transition, he says, "is inevitable, and it’s started".

"The earlier that you deal with it, the bigger the opportunity.”

Linden's appointment last month to the newly created role of head of energy transition at UK-based advisory Westwood Global Energy Group “is a clear statement that Westwood’s taking that topic very seriously", he tells Upstream.

Linden, who lives and works in London, is optimistic that the energy transition will offer significant scope for repurposing skills gained in the upstream industry as companies restructure their businesses and portfolios.

“You would expect that when companies transition, that they also transition their employees along with that.”

Roles overlap

He cites the example of the North Sea, where an increasing convergence of the oil and gas and the renewables sectors has created an overlap of roles and a repurposing of employee skillsets.

“You can have oil and gas legacy staff who will be able to continue to work in energy transition technology. That’s down to governments to provide the incentives and also to companies and corporations — I don’t think it’s good enough just to cut staff,” says Linden.

He concedes there is “quite a gap” in the skillsets required for players to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the energy transition and renewable energies sectors.

However, while such gaps do exist, oil and gas companies’ skills such as digitalisation can be repurposed.

Companies need “foresight” and the “right kind of leadership” to quickly conquer the skills shortage, adds Linden.

He says one of the industry's challenges is that “it sometimes lives in a bit of an echo chamber and thinks quite narrowly. You need companies to think more broadly".

“Getting out of that echo chamber, collaborating, expanding your horizon and working with different groups is going to be hugely important.”

Linden comes to the energy transition from a background in gas and liquefied natural gas.

After leaving university, he completed a graduate management programme for steelmaker Corus — now part of India’s Tata Group — before “quite quickly” moving on to BP, where he worked in IST (integrated supply and trading) as a regulatory advisor.

“Basically, I helped them work through all the regulations, the policy changes that were happening on the gas side, so that when the origination and trading teams were looking to build a new portfolio, they would be on top of what’s going on.”

Following a short stint at technical advisory outfit Mott MacDonald, where he helped build a commercial advisory business, Linden moved to energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, initially working in the gas and LNG consulting team.

His workscope there was more varied and included pipeline due diligence work and helping “a major Middle East country” work out a way to remove its energy subsidies.

“I used to spend a lot of time in the Middle East during that process," he says.

“I also did a lot of global gas modelling, helping clients really to understand the commercial value and commercial monetisation routes for their gas assets.”

Consulting division

Linden helped develop a consulting division at WoodMac for power, renewables and energy transition in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.

He believes gas still has a future in the energy mix even as companies move towards greener futures.

“It’s a good bet to place and a number of companies are doing that," he says.

Linden sees natural gas as "an enabler" but notes that "there are risks that we need to think carefully about as the power system evolves".

Gas could get "pushed to the margin" as technologies such as "solar-plus" energy storage advance and become more cost efficient, he says.

“That still means gas exists [in the energy mix] but it gets pushed into a position where it’s a peaker. It might be profitable, but the volume isn’t quite there.

"There is a concern that as markets mature, that gas does get pushed out more quickly than we think because technologies have developed more quickly than we thought,” he says.

There are also calls in many parts of the world to skip blue hydrogen, which would use natural gas as a feedstock, and go straight to green hydrogen produced with renewable energy.

“'Why are we investing money in the technology that is going to have a 10-year lifespan?’ is a question in many policymakers’ minds,” says Linden.

Linden reckons that, while the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the pace of the energy transition in the short term — sales of electric vehicles have slumped, and supply chains have been interrupted — the past months have seen positive “major policy shifts”.

Climate policy has been “pushed to the fore” in the European Union, while China has announced carbon neutrality by 2060, he says, citing just two examples.

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Linden refers to himself as “a bit of a European”: he’s half German and has both British and German citizenship, while his wife is French-German.

“We go to France most summers and we all mix around Europe a lot," he says.

"I’ve got two young kids who are growing up in quite a multicultural way, trying to speak different languages.”

Outside of work, one of his passions is cycling.

“I love my bike," Linden says. "I cycle to work every day – it’s just 20 minutes – but I also take my other bike, my road bike out to Richmond Park (in southwest London) and further afield.”