HARNESSING THE WINDS OF CHANGE

In my quest to bring you, dear reader, information about new technologies well before other shipping commentators I attended a seminar, at business advisers and accountants BDO’s Baker Street HQ, on the eve of the US election, to learn about the challenges and opportunities from realising the ‘holy grail’ of renewable energy – large scale energy storage.

An expert panel comprising technologists, bankers and industry thought-leaders were challenged by leading journalists, and the audience, to identify the biggest obstacles to success and suggest ways to get over, or around, them.

If I closed my ears to the words ‘energy storage’ and replaced them with ‘shipping’ - then I’d heard the conversation a thousand times before.

The experts identified three clear challenges to growth of the sector: lack of regulation, lack of certainty around cost and predictability of different technologies, and the knowledge gap between the urgent need for industry take-up and the tangible long term commercial benefits providing resilience in a volatile future.

Human issues around lack of available time and resources to properly investigate and embrace the nuances of various alternative solutions for different assets were highlighted. As in shipping there was a sense of ‘being lectured’ by renewable energy evangelists [is that me? sorry!] that the asset managers aim must be to go 100% renewables. Whether the managers were responsible for municipal buildings like schools, hospitals and community housing or commercial office blocks, the failure to appreciate that these people are also required to balance the not inconsequential difficulties of austerity, recession and a range of other non-energy related problems must be appreciated. [Will try harder]

Solutions were to be found through the development of innovative business models which focussed beyond the technology. Solutions that deployed sophisticated analytics tools and novel finance mechanisms built on renewable energy’s unique value proposition: fuel is free. These system enablers mitigate commercial risks and enable finance to be provided outside of the asset managers remit of responsibility, thus making their buying decisions much more straightforward.

The often-repeated mantra that renewable energy is nonviable because it is intermittent was challenged head-on. That the grid is inflexible in its current form, and energy demand is not subject to any meaningful management was highlighted as a key challenge. There is sufficient renewable energy available, through combining different power sources – wind, wave, solar, ground source and so on - to create 100% renewable domestic energy. The grid needs to become more flexible on both the supply and demand side.

What we can learn in shipping from these kinds of profound challenges to our old thinking is that just because that’s the way it was always done, it doesn’t mean it’s the way it always will be done;

the future is very different from the past.

The results of the US election that emerged the following morning underlined that we are experiencing a period of great change. Our recent past can no longer be a reliable guide to the near future. Predictability in an uncertain world is a luxury. We can be sure that the wind will continue to blow, the sun to rise and tides to turn – harnessing that energy gives us security and resilience to withstand the winds of change.