One of the things that makes the renewable energy transition so difficult is that it necessitates long-term commitment. It is not a problem that can be solved in a few short years by a single energy company innovating a new product. Rather, the infrastructure developments, economic transformation, and cultural shifts required to bring about this transition will permanently alter many foundational facets of society that have existed for hundreds of years. This will take a significant amount of time to undergo and requires the passing of the baton to future generations to pick up the work started by their predecessors.
Manuel Herraiz, Sales Manager at Siemens Energy, joined this edition of the Siemens Energy Podcast to discuss some of the challenges to this intergenerational partnership and what it means to be a future energy leader in the campaign to revolutionize the way the world thinks about energy.
Past and Future Industry
To Manuel, one of the most obvious challenges facing future energy transformation is the entrenchment of old infrastructure. The oil and gas industries have been the primary providers of global energy for the last 200 years. Moving towards dependence on cleaner forms of energy means building out new, renewable infrastructure, or outfitting old infrastructure to work with new forms of energy. This is not only a logistical struggle but poses broader economic and cultural problems as well.
It’s not just energy grids and energy technology that have grown dependent on fossil fuels. The global economy has been built around the production and consumption of oil and gas since the Industrial Revolution. Extraordinary numbers of people are employed by the energy industry, vast amounts of money flow through it, and international governments depend on its trade to prop up their economies. A future transition to clean energy must provide financial incentives and economic stability to be a feasible alternative to fossil fuels. This will not be a quick process either. It’s not a matter of throwing money at renewable innovations but changing the way money flows through the industry, and society at large, to carve new economic channels that slowly funnel the global economy toward a new way of doing business.
This requires, in some ways, a reeducation of society as to how to think about energy. In the US especially, society has become accustomed to the energy demand that fossil fuels can easily meet. Large amounts of power can be drawn at a time without exceeding the energy grid’s capability. This has trained many in the US to become wasteful with their energy consumption, using more than is needed because there is no fear of running out of power. In Europe, by contrast, where renewables have made greater inroads, power must be rationed more carefully. It is not uncommon to trip a circuit by using too many appliances at once. This is foreign to many American consumers. To create the financial incentives to reform the energy economy, society must change its habits around energy consumption to be more consistent with the supply a renewable energy economy can meet. To create economic sustainability, the demand needs to be consistent with the new supply.
This is where much of the potential for intergenerational conflict can ensue regarding energy solutions. Younger generations seeking quick solutions can be in tension with older generations that are still a part of current systems and industries in the middle of change. According to Manuel, creating meaningful solutions requires each group to work together, not against each other. With their combined strengths and assets, these two generations can transform the energy sector in a more profound way than either could on their own.
While upcoming energy leaders have the commitment and passion for climate solutions, they may often lack the industry knowledge and experience needed to meaningfully enact those solutions. Prior generations enter the renewables conversation with decades of experience in the economics and logistics of the energy industry. This knowledgeable and realistic perspective on the current challenges facing the industry is a necessary part of coming up with future solutions. Rather than future leaders working against the old guard, Manuel desires cooperation, where past energy leaders slowly pass the baton to the next generation. In this way, the transition of leadership in the climate conversation must mirror the energy transition itself: a slow, calculated, cooperative effort that takes advantage of the strengths of all parties.
"We all have a responsibility to play a big role in the future of energy."Manuel Herraiz, Siemens Energy
Future Energy Leaders
Many of the industry leaders currently working to solve the climate crisis will be retired long before the carbon neutrality target date of 2050. So it is up to future leaders to take up the mantle of the prior generations to address upcoming challenges. These future leaders, says Manuel, must be adaptable in an unpredictable world.
The last several years have been a lesson in the diverse array of unforeseeable problems that the industry may be called to face. To successfully navigate the transition to clean energy, leaders in the industry must be willing to grow and adapt to these problems. Change is fundamental to energy transformation. The above-listed hurdles to addressing climate change will inevitably force the industry to evolve in several substantial ways, and the people leading the charge to address these obstacles must be willing to evolve with it. The solutions of the present may not be the solutions of the future and future energy leaders need to remain focused on the objective, not their particular desired path to that objective.
This adaptability, and the ability to work harmoniously with current energy leaders passing the mantle, is achievable through the implementation of multi-level planning. As a society, we tend to shy away from long-term planning (which is part of what created the climate crisis in the first place). In an attempt to address this failing, the global community has created an explicit long-term target of carbon neutrality by 2050. While helpful, Manuel sees the energy industry doing more to foster a more holistic approach. Rather than shooting for this distant target, Manuel sees future energy leaders creating short-term momentum that launches the industry towards long-term goals.
Creating one-year, three-year, and ten-year plans is pivotal in fostering an adaptable and collaborative environment. The short-term plan allows the younger generation to put all their energy into innovation and immediate solutions. It encourages evolution, changing their approach annually to meet new yearly targets. At the same time, it fosters the necessary intergenerational cooperation. Staggered emissions targets bring current leaders into present solutions and allow them to be a part of a broader vision for the future of energy, where they can offer their industry experience to upcoming leaders.
Transforming Energy Together
Unity is the greatest asset in combating climate change. Siemens Energy is committed to working with other industry leaders and national governments to develop short-term innovations that breed long-term solutions. This commitment to unity can be seen in the work that Manuel does, fostering public education and internal collaboration to create a more synergistic effort in creating a clean energy grid. Manuel seeks to instill patience and adaptability in himself and future energy leaders. Together, current and future leaders can combine their unique strengths to carve a path toward a sustainable future and a new way to think about energy production and consumption.