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Overcoming the new energy trilemma through decarbonisation, efficiency, and collaboration: Christopher Hudson

The energy trilemma of the past has evolved to reflect the challenges of our current moment. While before, global leaders were concerned with the supply of energy that was secure, affordable, and sustainable, today the challenge is to provide the world with energy that is secure, sustainable and equitable. Equitable encapsulates the previous trilemma definition’s energy affordability, as well as accessibility and the socio-economic impacts of energy in a country. This is of particular importance, as the development levels and quality of living gaps between the Global South and North close.

While this new trilemma definition encompasses more needs, making it more complex to resolve, the broad solutions are still the same. The major action needs to come from the global energy industry, which must continue to lead efforts to decarbonise and drive efficiencies through artificial intelligence (AI) and technology.

Critical to overcoming the current energy trilemma is the introduction of more low- and zero-emission energy sources, like liquified natural gas, green hydrogen, solar, wind, and biofuels. These fuels can help provide an increasing number of the low-carbon energy molecules the world needs. Related to this is transitioning industries that previously ran on fossil fuels -- like the hard-to-abate sectors of transportation, cement and steel production, and shipping -- to running on low or zero-emission electricity. Supporting a shift from coal-powered electricity to clean energy-powered electricity in Asia alone – which currently accounts for 82% of the world’s coal generation – could have vast benefits. Clean energy-powered industrial activity across Asia could advance the decarbonisation of many of the continent’s heavy industries while significantly reducing global carbon emissions. Achieving such large-scale changes requires supportive policy frameworks, financial incentives and tax breaks, clean energy finance and investment, and technology development.

And while the end goal of the energy transition is an energy system that is effectively zero carbon, it will take time to develop, commercialise, scale, and implement the technologies and systems that can do that. In the interim, we will continue to use energy sources that produce carbon but must do so while reducing their emissions impact. That is why the global energy industry needs to continue its efforts to develop and incorporate carbon capture, sequestration and utilisation (CCUS) and direct air capture (DAC) technologies, which can help ensure that the hydrocarbons we use do not contribute to climate change. In parallel, government and industry should support the many startups that are working to turn captured carbon into useful products like graphene, polymers, concrete, and even biofuels.

Another key element to solving the energy trilemma is to increase the focus on energy efficiency. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that around two-thirds of the total prime energy of the world goes to waste – primarily through energy leaks and ineffective energy use. This otherwise wasted energy can be considered an untapped energy source that the industry can harness through improved energy efficiency. This can be done through the integration of digitalisation technologies, like machine learning and AI.  

The last critical component of the energy trilemma looks to address that third expanded need – energy equity. The pursuit of energy equity is about ensuring that no one is left behind in the global energy transitions. Achieving it is not as simple as developing new clean energy technologies or implementing mega projects in places like Europe and North America. In many parts of the Global South, any type of energy supply is lacking, let alone clean energy. The energy industry must prioritise fair access to clean energy, ensuring the benefits of secure clean energy access reach vulnerable communities. This can be achieved through collaborative efforts between the Global North and South to promote equitable distribution of resources and technologies. This collaboration needs to include technology transfer, access to finance and investment, and the development of customised solutions to create energy systems that are ideally suited for each unique market, instead of attempting to shoehorn solutions borrowed from the Global North.

Recognising the importance of bringing together the wider global energy industry to accelerate efforts to resolve these complex issues, the world’s largest energy event ADIPEC has made enabling the actions to overcome the new global energy trilemma a major focus of its 2024 edition. With our Strategic Conference gathering the world’s decision-makers and innovators, we will facilitate a meeting of minds across diverse sectors and geographies, forging the alliances and collaborations necessary to reengineer the global energy system. By platforming visionaries on critical topics, the conference will harvest insights on the latest thinking, trends and solutions around emissions, energy efficiencies and disruptive technology needed to advance global energy transitions. This mission is supported by the introduction of three new dedicated conferences – Digitalisation and Technology, Finance and Investment, and Voices of Tomorrow – that will spotlight industry progress and inspire collaborative and equitable action to fully unlock the opportunities presented by the integration and adoption of Fifth Industrial Revolution technologies.

Through ADIPEC’s timely agenda, the energy trilemma’s needs for decarbonisation, energy efficiency, and Global North-South collaboration will be advanced. ADIPEC’s gathering of the wider energy industry will facilitate the inclusive, meaningful and action-oriented dialogue needed to ensure that clean energy access reaches all corners of the world.


Christopher Hudson is the president of dmg events, the organiser of ADIPEC

Source: Upstream

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