Collaborate to scale up energy and technology transition

Sue Arundale, director general of European engineering consultancy federation EFCA, speaking at the FIDIC conference in Geneva on 13 September 2022.

Energy and technology discussion highlights need for more collaboration on policies and regulation.

Day two of the FIDIC Global Infrastructure Conference on 13 September 2022 began with a panel discussion session on Energy and technology perspectives, examining technological, innovation and transport as a driver of change which looked at how energy solutions will need to evolve to meet demand.

Opening the discussion, session chair James Mwangi, CEO of Kurrent Technologies and a FIDIC board member, struck an optimistic note by highlighting that more than 90% of the power consumed in his country, Kenya, comes from renewables.

Keynote speaker, José Aparicio, managing director of Siemens Energy Mexico, reflected on some of the technology approaches to net zero, including coal to gas shift, power generation hybridation and deep carbonization. Aparicio said that digitalisation was driving the energy transition at pace through developments such as digital thermal twins, clean energy certification and ‘drone-in-a-box’ use.

“We are well on our way to decarbonisation and we have no choice but to act. And, as engineers we have a duty to bring key issues to the table, highlight the problems and then solve them,” Aparicio told his audience at the conference.

Prashant Kapila, managing director of Intercontinental Consultants & Technocrats in India, offered his thoughts on where his country was at in the journey to net zero. Like other major cities, there had been a major shift towards mass public transit transport in an effort to shift people away from car use. In developing economies, cars have historically been seen as a status symbol so there were challenges in moving people from personal transport and to use public transportation, Kapila said.

Asked how the Covid pandemic had forced the industry to reconsider what sustainable transport looks like, Pierre Verzat, CEO of SYSTRA, said that Covid had changed the business model of many companies as they were now travelling less and using technology more in their day-to-day work. Verzat also said that low carbon and ultra-low carbon construction materials were a must and needed to be adopted on a much wider scale than currently to speed the drive to net zero.

Jay Wolverton, chair elect of the American Council of Engineering Companies highlighted the growing importance of battery storage and data was playing a key role in making the grid more viable and ensuring that pricing was more stable, especially important at a time of rising energy prices around the world. He also pointed out the need to educate the public on the key issues and explain decarbonisation and the benefits it would bring to society.

Addressing the role of rolling out innovations and new technologies, Sue Arundale, director general of European engineering consultancy group EFCA, said that there was a need to be better at bringing solutions to market and making them more widely available. “When we spend money on finding these solutions and developing innovations at a research level, we really need to go out and then ensure that they are used widely,” Arundale said.

Arundale also talked about the role of government and regulation and made a plea for procurement to change to ensure that lowest price was not the key deciding criteria for selecting consultants.

She also said that regulation was important in ensuring that there was order and that the energy transition was properly planned, but that engineers and the wider industry should be involved in influencing that process. There was a need for more collaboration in the construction supply chain and policy must be more of a more participative process and not be developed in silos, Arundale said.