New trends require visionary executives in energy

The renewable energy trend due to decarbonization efforts imposed by climate change has become one of main determinants in the energy sector. On the one hand, the energy industry is undergoing a substantial transformation across the world, including Turkey; on the other, it has a transformative effect on other sectors. This effect stems from the fact that all sectors tend to play a role in the fight against climate change, either voluntarily or due to public pressure, because all these industries somehow are energy consumers and the energy resources they consume is consistently questioned.

The energy industry is transforming not only in terms of resources but also technology. New resources and generation technologies have emerged both in renewables and fossil fuels, according to Murat Kaya, Director of the Energy Technologies and Management Program (ETM) of Sabanci University. Costs of key technologies such as photovoltaic (PV) solar panels and lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are rapidly decreasing, as well as the share of electricity gradually declining in end-use fields such as transportation and heat generation.

Thus, flexibility and resilience of electricity networks become important in order to better evaluate renewables, and energy storage technologies become prominent at the same time. “That’s why digitalization, data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions are being implemented at many stages of energy and electricity supply chains,” says Kaya. The technologies toward energy efficiency and reduction of greenhouse emissions also attract increasing interest, according to him. Hydrogen takes the stage with the potential to trigger the great transformation in many fields of energy.

In light of these developments, sector leaders should ‘keep their radars open’ and evaluate new technologies in terms of the uncertainties they bring with them and positions on the maturity curve. “Some of them are already in use, while others have recently been put into practice, or they are at the laboratory stage and may never be used on a large scale,” Kaya says. “Visionary executives should seriously think about how to affect the sector in terms of manner, speed and possibility,” he added.

New technologies don’t forget to create new business lines in the energy industry. Data analytics, digitalization, AI and optimization approaches will be influential in the energy industry as they are in other sectors. In this context, net-zero emission, energy efficiency, new finance models and advanced technology consulting are among the new business lines in the sector, according to Kaya. A multidimensional perspective and learning to learn stand out as the most required skills in the labor force in the sector, he says.

“In order to develop effective solutions to the complex problems faced by the energy industry, taking a different approach is a must in areas such as engineering, science, operations, financing, the environment, legislation and the broader society. Specialization in individual areas isn’t enough. It’s necessary to speak with other specialists in their languages,” says Kaya, stressing that one executive with an engineering background will miss such as project financing, energy markets or legislation, while the other with a finance background can have difficulties in understanding of risks and potential of new energy technologies or operation principles of power stations.

Sabanci University’s ETM Program is designed to bridge these gaps. The ETM targets both current executives and executive candidates. “We should continuously learn as the education we receive starts to become old before we graduate,” says Kaya. The right definition of the new problems to be faced, linking with relevant fields, research from valid resources, asking the right questions to the right specialists and creating implementable solutions as a result of them are important, he adds.

Problem solving skills come knocking on our door. In terms of the hydrogen economy for instance, chemistry, production technologies such as electrolysis, combustion behavior and fuel cell operation principles must be understood in order to carry out a proper evaluation of hydrogen’s potential usage, such as energy storage, heat generation and fuel cell electric vehicles. But as Kaya says, these aren’t enough. The cost structures of hydrogen supply chains, viewpoints of producer and user candidate companies and financial institutions, operational and environmental risks, and relevant government policies should be taken into account.

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