12 February 2020

Joining the conversation at the CCUS and Hydrogen Decarbonisation Summit; Confessions and learnings from a communicator

My first blog, but also not my first! I’ve written and supported with the development of hundreds of blogs as a Communicator for Siemens Gas and Power. But this is the first time I’ve had a blog accredited to me, and I now have a new-found sympathy with those stakeholders who are reluctant to just ‘go for it’ and post their musings to the world.

But I’ve bitten the bullet. And the reason for dipping my toe into the blogging world is that Siemens recently attended an industry event focused around the need to decarbonise the energy industry and the belief that hydrogen and CCUS are key to this. I’ve worked in the energy industry for seven years, but I’m not an engineer or even remotely technical. So, I thought I’d share what I learnt and my thoughts in what is hopefully a jargon-free way. It’s a complicated topic, but sometimes an outsider view can help give another perspective. Let’s see…

Siemens Pace of Change report 2019 shows 53% of the general public want to know more about hydrogen

Decarbonisation isn’t just a buzz word

A fact which struck me initially was that energy-intensive industries currently produce approximately 24% of global emissions. Something I didn’t quite appreciate. It’s an enormous number.

Decarbonisation isn’t just a buzz word. It’s a huge challenge for industry and one that’s backed by the UK Government’s net zero emissions targets. It’s why Siemens is committed to raising awareness, exploring new markets and why we’ve made the pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030. It’s also the reason we took the opportunity to support this year’s Carbon Capture Use and Storage (CCUS) and Hydrogen Decarbonisation Summit.

Taking place at the Crowne Plaza in Birmingham on 4-5 February 2020, the Summit provided an opportunity to join others from the energy industry to share ideas and review ways the industry can support decarbonisation. The event brought together sector experts, policy makers (communicators, like me) and innovators across two days to address approaches through a series of thought-provoking topics on the rollout of decarbonisation technologies.

A collective ambition is uniting the industry

What struck me from outset is the collective ambition from key industry players to change. Greener, sustainable energy is no longer a topic reserved for a handful of wacky experts. Not only is this a mainstream topic of conversation, but it’s also something that former fossil and carbon-emitting giants (think big oil and gas companies if you need real examples) are talking about openly. And, excitingly for Siemens, these companies are asking for us to partner with them and help navigate the change.

Siemens Innovation Manager Dr Hannah Sophia, who is based at our Aero-Derivative Gas Turbine business in Warwick, was a keynote speaker at the event. Delivering her speech to attendees including customers and government representatives, Hannah focused on the case for using synthetic fuels in the Power to X process. With a fun tongue-in-cheek reference to TV show Breaking Bad, Hannah talked about the synthetic fuels and sector coupling as a potential lever to decarbonise the energy industry and large power consuming industries. Emphasis was placed on the need for the industry to build on its sector expertise and look at green methanol as a viable alternative to natural gas and other fossil fuels. And it was Hannah’s knowledge of this area that secured her a place alongside speakers including National Grid, leader of The Committee on Climate Change Chris Stark, and Equinor.

Don’t just present your highlights: Honesty is key

You can’t tackle a problem without being honest about the issues. The real issues. And as well as a sense of unity from the room, it was refreshing to see big businesses and key policy makers talk openly about the real issues impacting their decarbonisation agenda. Climate change is the major problem and decarbonisation is one of the solutions; but in reality, there are a series of other bumps in the road and issues we need to overcome. From lack of clear policy, investment, lack of R&D budgets and many, many more. Presenters at the event shared their ‘best bits’ but also opened up about the things that aren’t so easy. Often it was the presentation of challenges and issues that gained the most response from the room, whether that be collective nodding of heads or an offer of help. Collaboration is needed if we are going to crack this enormous societal challenge.

Big brands mean business

As a communicator it’s clear that, as well as the technical content presented, events like this help enormously with our brand perception. Engaging on these topics in a public forum helps customers (and the general public) understand our company direction, what we’re about, our purpose and our strategy to move forward. This is especially important with the creation of the new Siemens Energy company, which will separate from the main Siemens AG company later in the year.  I won’t dwell on recent events or go into the minefield of debate around this topic, but recently the Siemens brand has taken its share of scrutiny. But these issues are incredibly complex with subtle nuances. We need to have a two-way conversation, at events like this, with real customers and policy makers to really move the dial and combat this global issue.   

Raising awareness of such new technologies and approaches really does wave the flag for Siemens, putting us at the very heart of the decarbonisation journey and highlighting the level of change and innovation required to reach net zero by 2050. But this is a transitional period, not just for us but for the whole industry.

The pace of change is rapid.

Depending on the weather and other variables in the UK, the energy we consume is generated by a mix of technologies, around 46% of those are currently carbon-emitting fossil fuels.  Moving forward our aim as the newly formed Siemens Energy is to look at new greener fuels, which emit less or no carbon, such as green hydrogen that can be used in our existing turbines and generators. We know energy demand is increasing so we can’t just turn the lights off, instead we need to transition by exploring greener ways and adopting new sustainable methods including carbon capture, utilisation and storage, synthetic fuels and turbine enhancements.

The pace of change is rapid and to move forward it’s important we utilise existing technologies but on a larger scale.  Innovation is needed, but whilst there is a real sense of urgency to make changes now to deliver net zero targets, what’s important is to remember that this is a journey and it’s by using a balance of technology today that we can keep up with demand, fulfilling both the short and long term goals of our customers.   I am caveating this next section with the disclaimer that I am not an expert, but sometimes simplicity is key. Essentially, we need all our available technology, in different ways, possibly with different fuels. But we need to throw all our available technology, resources and brightest minds towards combating climate change to make it a success.  You need only watch the news or open a newspaper to see we are running out of time.

There is no silver bullet.

Each energy generating technology comes with its own pros and cons. To coin an over-used business phrase ‘there is no silver bullet’. A good example of this is natural gas used in our large-scale CCGT power stations. Natural gas is a fossil fuel, therefore emits carbon, however to a much lower extent than coal-fired power generation, which is currently being phased out of existence in the UK. For now, we need CCGT power stations as they are incredibly efficient, generate the power we need on a large scale and are flexible enough to meet peak demand. Longer term, we’re investigating how we use other fuels, technologies and sector coupling within our existing CCGT fleet to meet demand but reduce emissions. 

Another example is renewable wind power. A great low carbon, renewable source of energy; however, if the wind isn’t blowing, there’s no electricity generated. So, we can’t rely on this method alone to give us a secure supply.

In short, it’s a balancing act. And one where we need lots of technological solutions working together to create an energy system that’s collectively more sustainable, yet still meets our high energy demands.

Commercialisation and collaboration to tackle the challenge

To reach those goals however, we also need to bring our customers along with us. And, as I mentioned previously, they are already asking us to help them. To coin yet another well-used business phrase ‘we’re pushing on an open door’. Creating a more eco-friendly environment has been a hot topic for a few years now and with our stakeholders being aware of the need for change, it’s important that we show our commitment to that area. At the summit there was a real sense of unity; with representatives from different industrial clusters on the panel mutually acknowledging the importance of collaboration in facilitating change.

Decarbonisation remains a big challenge for the industry but in order to move forward, focus also needs to be placed on commercialisation and obtaining government support for future investment in infrastructure and skills. We also need a stable energy policy, one with longevity and long-term views so the private sector, companies like Siemens, can invest smartly and at speed. One of the key discussions at the event was how industry needs to inform policy making.  It is with this backing as an industry, a plan of action can be created to drive an agenda that galvanises support and delivers the change needed.

In summary a useful event with some important discussions but with a clear consensus that we all need to do more. With the spotlight firmly on the UK for the up and coming COP26 in November the race is on to make real substantial commitments to decarbonise, not just in the energy sector but throughout industry.  The first step however is for global businesses, like Siemens, to lead that conversation and wave the flag for decarbonisation, bringing others on that journey too.

So, what’s next for Siemens? And where can you find out more?

One of the many lovely things about my job is getting to see lots of the best bits and highlights from the energy businesses. Here are just a few snippets from the many exciting projects that our team is working on.

Green energy is the future and we want to play our part in creating a better environment for everyone. A transitional period over the next ten years will see us move towards keeping the lights on whilst also developing technology to generate and transmit energy using new environmentally friendly fuels and sources.

Siemens Energy globally is investing huge amounts in R&D to road test our turbine technology using a mix of natural gas and hydrogen across our gas turbine fleet, with the ultimate goal of all our turbines being able to run on 100% hydrogen by 2030.

We’re also continuing to lead the way in our transmission businesses by managing grid complexity and supporting renewable grid connections, HVDC technology and delivering  the first interconnector, the Viking Link, between Denmark and the UK.

Further down the line there are also plans to look at energy generation on our Siemens sites by exploring new business fields such as hydrogen electrolysis, a renewable energy source that helps support our longer- term net zero plan.

Ultimately though it is through collaboration, pushing boundaries, innovative thinking and steady transitioning, we can look forward to achieving those goals and creating a more sustainable future for all.

You can find out more by visiting www.siemens.co.uk/greenammonia

Teaser Photo by Victoria Tanner on Unsplash

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