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CERAWeek: Digitalization is key in industry pursuit of net-zero

By: Anthresia McWashington

Panelists agreed that digitalization is necessary to provide real-time solutions as the energy aims toward net-zero goals during a discussion on technologies for zero carbon at CERAWeek.

Gwenaëlle Avice-Huet, Schneider Electric Chief Strategy & Sustainability Officer and Member of the Schneider Electric Executive Committee, said digitalization and behavioral changes surrounding energy production and consumption provides opportunities for energy efficiency throughout the industry.

“We’ve been working with a company called Autograde to optimize the energy system and to optimize the network. Basically, you have numbers of assets that are producing energy. You have the big assets that we are thinking about (e.g.) coal, gas, or renewables like wind and solar, and you also have distributed energy resources,” Avice-Hunt said. “Energy transition is thinking to become more efficient in the way we use energy. It’s not only thinking about production, it’s also thinking about the usages and the way we consume energy. That’s what we did with Autograde for the utilities sectors so they could have in-hand distributed energy resources, and at the same time, people wanting to cooperate with an expert to have energy management.”

While cloud data storage has allowed for real-time solutions to be applied across the industry, panelists also discussed the benefits of digitalization on a wider scale, including safety and security, commercialization of energy carriers like hydrogen, and increasing process speeds on developing projects and partnerships aiming to reduce carbon emissions.

Darryl Willis, Corporate Vice President Energy Industry at Microsoft, said that considering continuity of operations and minimizing risks are top priority when discussing digitalization with energy companies.

“In terms of what Microsoft is doing just beyond the cloud, it’s really thinking about what technologies are required to get to net-zero. We’ve got our own internal net-zero ambitions, but we also realize that it’s not going to be good enough for Microsoft to get to net-zero by 2030 if the rest of the world does not do it by 2050 or sooner,” said Willis. “A big bet that we’ve made is we’ve created our own journey to work on carbon capture and storage. And very unusual for a technology company to be involved with this but we’re partners in this space with the government of Norway, Total, Shell, and Equinor. We are the technology provider for this project that will go live in 2024; Schlumberger is also involved in helping to use some of the subsurface technology that explores for oil and gas. That same technology will be used to deliver carbon dioxide into abandoned reservoirs. That’s an area that’s really exciting. We do not believe you can get to net-zero in 2050 or sooner without CCS.”

Panelists also discussed the importance of utilizing technology to strategize the hydrogen economy and efforts to bring these technologies to scale.

“We’ve been having some interesting conversations with companies as they develop strategies around the hydrogen economy, whether it’s green hydrogen or blue hydrogen,” Willis said. “Utility companies are even thinking about how to integrate hydrogen into their grid operations so there is a lot of interesting conversations we are involved in because we want to ensure that some of these technologies are commercialized and able to scale. Those are two big barriers, and those are the things that I believe data will be fundamental to, and areas where Microsoft can play to its strengths.”

Ashok Belani, Schlumberger New Energy Executive Vice President, said that heavy-duty vehicles could be the first market that creates widespread hydrogen usage, but it is necessary for the industry to consider the entire value chain to speed up the commercialization process.

“The fuel cell industry and the electrolyzer industry must move on to be able to produce these products. The way we have tried to approach it, and I think Europe is doing quite well in that they try to develop the whole value chain, including the user markets of hydrogen,” Belani said. “When we are trying to industrialize the electrolyzer, we have a relationship with Arcelor Mittal for using it in the steel industry or cementing companies for using it in the cement industry, or using it in transforming renewable power so that it can be exported and so on.”

Belani continued, “The value chain of hydrogen, which will absorb the hydrogen and truly carry the energy from renewable sources whether its offshore wind or solar, will have to be developed locally in many different places and the export of hydrogen will also have to be developed over a period of time.”

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