CERAWeek 2023 Recap – A Focus on the Journey to Net Zero

March 09, 2023

As Day 4 of CERAWeek kicked off, Shell CEO Wael Sawan evoked Ralph Waldo Emerson emphasizing the need to focus on the journey to our net zero destination. As the event draws to a close, there have been continued conversations and insights from top business and government leaders on how we continue that journey.  On Monday, I shared my initial thoughts from Day 1, and while many of those themes were reinforced over the past few days, several new ones have also emerged. Here are some of those highlights:

Not Your Father’s Energy

  • In the late 80s, as part of a rebranding effort, Oldsmobile launched a well-remember ad campaign that claimed “This is Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile”.
  • Oil and gas companies too are in a continuous evolution. ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Darren Woods noted “People think we are an energy company – we are actually a company that transforms and manages molecules.” While that work has historically been focused on hydrocarbon molecules, the changing energy economy is pushing companies to extend that work to include hydrogen and CO2 (in the form of carbon capture.)
  • My favorite quote came on Tuesday from Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Eni who when referring to his company’s work in biofuels, told Daniel Yergin that “agriculture is the new upstream.”

Power to the People

  • Nawaf Al-Sabah, Deputy Chairman and CEO of KPC, focused on how companies can develop their human capital. Speaking with Daniel Yergin, he explained that KPC takes three steps to help their employees reach their full potential. First, they rotate them into international operations to help them gain broader experiences. Second, they have digitalized processes from their core to their customers. Third, they created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion council with strong leadership.
  • Meanwhile, Rafael Chaves, Chief Institutional Relations and Sustainability Officer of Petrobras noted the importance of getting internal understanding and alignment for buy-in. The steps they have taken start with a mandatory course for 45,000 people on their sustainability commitment and why it is an imperative. Second, they have set both long-term and short-term targets, and tied them to pay – if emissions become higher payments become lower. Third, they established a corporate fund to invest in projects. For new projects, employees can ask for additional money to decarbonize the project without impacting NPV projections.

Girding the Grid for Changes

  • With as many as 26 million EVs on the road by 2045, Sergej Mahnovski, Managing Director of Strategy, Innovation and Technology for California-based Edison International said we could see loads increase by more 60 percent over the next 20 years, with one-third of being devoted to electric vehicles.
  • Offering some relief, he expected digitalization and data to play a big role in better managing those changes. Over the next decade, he stated, we can expect an increase in data of two orders of magnitude. This will transform operations to be more reliable, safer, and faster, and enable providers to find hidden capacity and leverage customer assets.
  • We can address the demand side as well, said Mauricio Gutierrez, President and CEO of NRG Energy. With flexible and smarter demand behind the meter – in the form of smart homes, roof solar, EVs as batteries, and more – we can reduce peak load by 15to 20 percent. With 1000 GW US peak demand in 2035, this is significant.

A Need to Invest Boldy

  • Hess Corporation CEO John Hess told Daniel Yergin that clean energy will require massive investments - as much as $4 trillion a year for the next ten years. Raising money for renewable projects, however, remains difficult, David Rubenstein, co-chairman of the board for the Carlyle Group noted, because the rates of return haven’t been as high as those for oil and gas projects.
  • Despite those challenges, companies are investing. Darren Woods noted that ExxonMobile will spend $17 billion on lower emissions investments going forward.
  • On Wednesday, the government committed even more support. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced two initiatives. First, a $6 billion funding opportunity for industrial decarbonization projects. Second, a new “Pathways to Commercial Liftoff” for essential, large-scale deployment of four technologies: Clean hydrogen, advanced nuclear, carbon management, and long-duration storage.

A Culture of Innovation is Critical

  • As always, innovation remains key to achieving a sustainable future. To drive that innovation, AWS CEO Adam Selipsky said, he emphasizes curiosity and speed. Speed, he added, is a choice that companies make.
  • The company has also made customer obsession a key part of their culture. Often, Selipsky said, they will write the press release before they write code, and if they can’t do something that is delightful and engaging to customer, they won’t do it.
  • Selipsky’s final comments were focused on keeping team size down. By keeping meeting to a “two pizza” size or smaller, they are able to create agile teams that can react quickly as demands change.

Secretary Granholm summed it up well. “Someone is going to write this chapter of history. But who will he be writing about? What courageous visionaries in this room will be shaping this chapter?  I tell you what—he (Dan Yergin) won’t be writing about the ones who covered their eyes and ears and hunkered down in a defensive crouch. He’ll be writing about the ones who saw this moment and chose to boldly lead in this diverse energy future.”


Thanks again to everyone at CERAWeek for a great conference. I look forward to continuing the many conversations this year leading up to COP28 this fall.

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