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This year’s CERAWeek was different. Here’s why

Paula Doyle, senior vice president of Energy at Cognite, looks back at this month’s big energy industry event.

Like we didn’t have enough to talk about already.

I traveled to Houston earlier this month with high expectations. The stage was set for the first in-person CERAWeek in three years. Big names and even bigger topics: the energy transition, the post-pandemic economic boom, Europe’s energy crisis. All of this and more was on the agenda.

The war in Ukraine changed all of that. Overnight, the war exposed the fragility and instability of our energy system and injected fresh insecurity into global markets. Everything we had planned to talk about in Houston had to be reframed.

Looking back at CERAWeek this year, I see a few key takeaways that stand out:

Renewable industries step into the spotlight…

What a difference three years can make. 

At CERAWeek 2019, oil and gas stole most of the airtime. Hydrogen production, carbon capture and storage, offshore wind, and other emerging industries made a handful of appearances, but they were at best sideshows.

This year, fossil fuels had to share the spotlight. It felt as though every single session, no matter the topic, either featured or segued into a conversation about how these  industries, fossil and renewable, and their synergies will power our homes, businesses, and economies in the future. 

Not only that, but I felt there was a real urgency to these conversations. We’ve moved well beyond talking about “if”—whether these technologies and industries are worth investing in. Now we’re talking about how and when.

The expanded scope of CERAWeek says something about where we are in the energy transition. The industry is acknowledging that we need short- and long-term solutions to satisfy demand. That means both fossil fuels and renewable energy need to deliver. This isn’t an either-or situation.

…but underinvestment in oil and gas comes back to haunt us

Many speakers, including Amin Nasser of Saudi Aramco and Patrick Pouyanné of TotalEnergies, brought up an uncomfortable truth: Because of the negative sentiment surrounding the oil and gas industry over the past few years, we’ve canceled and delayed sorely needed investments in both new and existing projects. 

As the world, and particularly Europe, looks to balance supply and demand, and to end our reliance on Russian oil and gas, we’re paying the price for years of underinvestment.

In the short term, we can’t drill our way out of this situation. As we’re scaling up renewable energy production, we also have to be laser focused on optimizing our existing producing assets —and our energy use—to make the most out of what we’ve already got.

An energy mix dominated by renewables is the future. What’s happened in the past month doesn’t change that. 

In the years and decades until we reach that goal, however, all oil and gas suppliers, regardless of where they are based, will need to further invest to optimize production and ensure that not a single barrel of oil goes to waste. 

Technology is key to this.

The word on everyone’s mind: resilience

The devastation and human suffering in Ukraine is heart-wrenching to watch. While we have our hands full with supporting our colleagues and their friends and family members affected by the war, we also need to be on high alert that we as an industry could get pulled deeper into the conflict on a different front.

We’ve seen how cyberattacks can knock out critical energy infrastructure. Last year’s Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack is just one example.

We have to be prepared that the frequency and severity of these attacks will intensify. No matter if Ukraine is on the other side of the border or the planet, we have to treat the war as though it’s on our doorstep. The digital solutions we develop need to include security as a core feature from day one.

The past month has confirmed what we already know: The energy system as a whole needs to work together to satisfy growing demand and safeguard the structures that serve society in an increasingly complicated geopolitical context.

We’ve built a lot while we’ve been working from home. As we emerge from the pandemic (knock on wood), we need to spend time together in person to iron out the creases and close the gaps.

That’s why this year’s CERAWeek was important.