Abu Dhabi's Dr. Al Jaber Sets the Challenge at CERAWeek 2023

March 06, 2023

CERAWeek 2023, the showcase global energy conference, hosted for the 40th year by Dan Yergin, kicked off today in Houston. The attendance and balance of the event signals decisively the crucial role digital innovation will play in the future of energy. The digital innovation part of CERAWeek, the “AGORA”, has grown from a small sideshow a few short years ago, to an absolute equal partner to the Executive Strategy Conversations happening concurrently. In fact, probably three quarters of the 1,000 speakers at the event are speaking in the digital and process technology innovation AGORA exposition.

CERAWeek 2023 has drawn its largest audience ever, some 7,500 delegates, to downtown Houston. They have come together from global energy companies, governments, consultancies and NGOs to discuss and debate the challenges of supplying the world’s future energy needs in a sustainable manner.

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the UAE Special Climate Envoy, CEO of ADNOC, and recently named President Designate for COP28, provided the most compelling and influential remarks on the opening morning of this four-day conclave. Dr. Al Jaber notably said:

“It is this industry’s, the world energy industry‘s, opportunity to reinvent itself.”

According to Dr. Al Jaber, as incoming president of COP28 which will be held this December in the UAE, he had mixed feelings about coming to this CERAWeek event, but he decided he must come. Looking ahead to COP28, and as the leader of one of arguably the most progressive global energy companies, he spoke directly and bluntly to the global energy leaders assembled in Houston. The world’s climate crisis is fact based, he said. The energy industry must be, and will be, included in the climate dialogues at COP28. He said his goal is to achieve collaborative discussions but also to be results oriented. Oil and gas industry leaders have, he said, the crucial and valuable experience to apply to solving the climate challenges.

“It is time to start a new chapter,” he said. “We need everyone to be engaged and be serious about making the energy transition.” Saying that the UAE is not shying away from the energy transition, he added, “we are running towards it. It provides enormous economic opportunity.” Masdar, the renewable energy company that Dr. Al Jaber founded on behalf of Abu Dhabi, is now the world’s second largest producer of renewable energy and has even larger ambitions. Dr. Al Jaber challenged the global oil and gas industry to “up its game.”

Tengku Muhammad Taufik, CEO of Petronas, speaking before Dr. Al Jaber, reflects a different reality. CEO of a national oil company, he has, he said, “different responsibilities” – among which is to provide abundant and affordable energy to the region that includes Malaysia and Indonesia. He spoke viscerally about the thousands of Malaysians displaced over the past several weeks by floods in his country. This brings both an understanding of the needs to provide basic energy at an affordable level to Malaysians, but also to recognize the need to invest and adapt to the realities of climate change. Taufik pointed out that countries in Asia are operating at different levels of economic maturity and will approach the energy transition at “multi-speeds.” He indicated that while resource-rich Asia doesn’t have the benefits of an “IRA–type” (Inflation Reduction Act) framework for investment incentives, it is already encumbered with huge energy subsidies to keep energy affordable for the population and needs a different capital financing calculus to enable energy transition investments in regions like Southeast Asia. Likewise, Dr. Al Jaber said that upcoming international IMF financial discussions need to lead to action on how to achieve the required energy transition investments in, as he put it, “The southern half of the world.”

Later in the day, Petronas Chief Digital Officer, Aadrin Azly, joined AspenTech’s Vikas Dhole, in exploring some of the digital innovation themes that are helping with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction. They gave several exciting examples of how digital technologies such as machine learning analytics and hybrid models are changing the game in optimizing energy production to move to a low carbon environment. Both agreed that offering training to teams to better exploit AI, breaking down organizational barriers and friction, and democratizing access to advanced digital technology will be key to achieving the promise of digital technology and contributing to a low carbon future.

To sum up CERAWeek 2023 day one, a lot of meaningful discussions are happening and the energy industry momentum is shifting. As urged by Abu Dhabi’s Dr. Al Jaber, it needs to move faster. In fact, Dr. Al Jaber challenged the audience of over 2,000 listening to his keynote speech:

“Why not be more aggressive? Let’s set a target of reaching net zero carbon by 2030. And as an industry, we need to move beyond Scope 1 and Scope 2. The energy industry needs to help the world with Scope 3 emissions.”

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