‘Will we?’ not ‘can we?’ is the real question facing the energy industry

After two days at Europe’s biggest energy trade fair, e-World, I’m heartened by the collective industry narrative on decarbonisation: it must happen, and fast. What remains unclear despite the many miles trod around the Essen convention hall is when these words will become meaningful action.

Flanking every lane of the venue were vendors of smart meters and EV chargers, solar panels and offshore wind, asset optimisation and BI tools. Traditional generators and retailers were there in force too, as were the oil companies moving into electricity as a pathway to decarbonisation. The brochures were beautiful, the slogans were slick, the promises were big.

But I was left wanting evidence of action. I wanted to see case studies that demonstrated the impact of smart companies working together around a shared vision.

I wanted to hear where parties want to play in the new value chain and what they are doing to accelerate the transition.

I wanted to be challenged by new commercial models that disrupt the old order and motivate a new cohort of companies to invest in the energy future.

And more than anything I wanted to see companies taking a position on what they will stop doing, not just what they will start doing (maybe, at some stage, when the price is right).

Technology - in particular distributed generation and storage - has completely changed what is possible for the energy sector. What technology alone cannot do is change the economic drivers in the system so that the investment case in DER and participation in a bi-directional market makes sense to energy users.

My outtake from e-World: the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. If we are serious about fossil-free living within a generation, the industry needs to rapidly move from talk to action.