The energy industry is evolving at a rapid pace due to many factors; from the acceleration of the energy transition, new sources of energy production being introduced into the energy mix, increasing electrification across industries, changing customer behaviors and expectations, and the need to provide reliable, affordable energy to meet current demand.
In June, Infosys hosted a panel of experts to share what is top of mind for leading innovation in the energy industry, co-sponsored by Infosys Women Connect and AWS Women Reinventing Energy – initiatives with an objective to close the gender gap by building a community that supports, attracts, nurtures, engages and advances female talent.
At Infosys, our ambition is to have 45% women in our workforce by 2030. We are committed to growing our women talent from the onset of recruiting to offering thriving careers in technology, management, and leadership levels. We are invested in quarterly events to foster networking and growth opportunities for our women workforce.
For this event, our intention was to discuss with the panel what we have learned from the industry’s experiences in driving innovation, to explore/discuss technological breakthroughs required to accelerate the implementation of energy systems of the future and understand how important it is for us to come together to succeed.
Setting the stage for the conversation is the fact that: Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects there will be a demand for 50% more energy by 2050 based on today’s forecast. Although renewables are on a rapid uptake, the EIA predicts that 50% of that demand is going to need to come from hydrocarbons. Energy systems fueling this demand are changing the energy value chain with more data at the edge being collected than ever before, new technologies like hydrogen, Internet of Things (IoT), electrification, high-performance computing (HPC), and quantum.
The panel was very diverse with the moderator being from Infosys Consulting’s Energy ERP Practice, the panelists from AWS Marketing and Innovation Programs, chief economist of large independent upstream company, VP of EHS of Global Engineering and Construction Company, VP of Commercial and Business Management of independent upstream company, and the Executive Director supporting several energy start-ups as a lab offering for a leading oilfield service.
Our conversation begins with a fundamental fact – as humans can all appreciate that we would like a better quality of life and for this energy is essential. In the past, energy creation was largely an engineering exercise without considering the impact of carbon. What if we were able to treat carbon as the new calorie, and carefully tracked its use? For example, it is quite easy to become attached to EV technology as a partial solution – but that car is built from hydrocarbons and rare earth materials, using electrons possibly from coal/hydrocarbons, on roads made from hydrocarbons. As carbon accountability and its effect on our lives comes to life, we make decisions on how to interact with these facts and our own carbon usage. A key component is that humans are making the decisions (or trade off) between quality of life and its effect on the environment, and what information or lack of information is driving those decisions?
Transition to more efficient hydrocarbon sources and nuclear energy sources will also have a role. Natural gas produces less carbon and is a viable alternative in many areas. Nuclear technology is also quietly expanding, and some believe a nuclear renaissance is coming. As nuclear options expand, you will see more use cases and need in communities for these solutions, as every day, more and more operations are switching to electrification.
Further contributing to the energy transition complexity is technology. New technology is continually evolving, but industry is behind on investment and has siloed innovation. From an innovation standpoint, in the areas of machine learning and AI, it is estimated the 100K jobs will be affected. Modernization efforts are also underway to the electrical grid in key areas, as well as new battery technology continually comes online. As investment in startup companies expands exploring energy transition, successful technologies will need to scale up faster to accommodate this expansive market. R&D and co-development of high-performance products will also continue as the market tries to keep up at pace. The technologies driving this reinvention that organizations are deploying today are HPC, AI, ML, IoT, digital twins, robotics, and others. Organizations are also recognizing the vital importance of data. There’s a saying that “the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”. Companies are seeking choices to move to state-of-the-art technologies for both their structured and unstructured data needs where scalability, accessibility, redundancy, and security are top challenges supporting their decisions as they work with cloud providers and migration techniques.
A major roadblock currently impacting the energy transition and is foreseen to continue are regional laws and government policies which prevent the needed innovation to move forward. Government policies need to be constructed better to foster the industry and prevent such roadblocks. In another example of where the energy transition is lacking, there are approximately 50 different carbon reporting standards. An effort to consolidate and standardize would be a massive improvement. The knowledge level outside the industry is lacking, and this creates strain on law makers to be objective and honest. The scale is incredibly fast, and like similar technology regulation, efforts are in many cases behind the need. There is a role for government to support, and this must be complimented by educating our policy makers and voters, so they understand what is cost effective.
As in many mature industries today, human capital in the energy transition effort continues to be a challenge. The skilled workforce is aging and has been from some time, and the problem of how to capture and transition that knowledge will continue. Finding new talent is difficult as well, in some ways finding good career minded college students is fighting against the culture.
There is a theory that each generation is defined by particular events, where Covid-19 was the first event of it’s kind that impacted all generations in some way in recent history. Each generation identifies differently to the events that have occurred during their life span. For example, Millennials have a different and unique experience with the events they’ve experienced – specifically 9/11, the pandemic, and the focus on climate changes. These experiences have contributed to energy not being such a popular career choice for younger generations. Specifically for the energy industry, if climate change is seen as a problem to them, it should be viewed as an opportunity for companies to transform the work experience into engagement around solving the climate change problem. By 2030, Generation Y and Generation Z combined will make up roughly 58% of the workforce. Both groups will expect more from their employers in terms of social responsibility and addressing challenges such as climate change.
There was a common theme within the panel regarding the importance and challenges faced with attracting and retaining talent. There is no silver bullet, and in many cases, this comes down to recruiting. Recruiting is now expanding through outreach programs designed to target high school and middle school aged children whereby raising awareness of career choices in the energy sector and presenting them with facts. Often, we find that most young people do not think that there is a long-term career in energy. Diverse candidates are also too often lost to other industries, as oil field services historically has been more male dominated. New programs are being introduced all the time making a case for a career in energy. Programs that improve retention, offer and encourage training, and challenge bias to improve the work experience are just some examples. Focus on giving someone the opportunity to solve the energy problem and provide the education and support is key. This generation thrives on the opportunity to do something that will have an impact.
The world of the future is less carbon intensive, but the need to hydrocarbon will continue in large quantities through 2050 and beyond. Alternatives are plentiful, but decisions and choices have their own challenges. Technology’s role is required on many fronts – the R&D is happening, and we are seeing more investment, but we must take an integrated approach. Collaboration with governments, academia, and commercial interests will allow the industry to thoughtfully provide an environment of innovation, safety, and efficiency. Finally, a new generation of diverse leaders needs to be introduced and empowered with the knowledge and opportunity to serve the needs of society in a way that ensures the continuation of improving the quality of life for all.