Business in the lead – panel discussion

Business in the lead – panel discussion

A panel discussion debated how business can take the lead in the energy transition and tried to identify the new business models and strategies for 100% renewable energy supplies.

Felix Zhang, Group Executive Director, Envision Energy
Ab van der Touw, CEO, Siemens, representing the Transition Coalition
Christopher McLachlan, Co-Founder, pear.ai and Innogy, an accelerator program for start-ups in Silicon Valley, USA
Wolf Ketter, Professor Next Generation Information Systems, Scientific Director ECFEB at RSM

The audience were asked for their opinions before the panel discussed the issues: what will the European energy mix look like in 2030? A majority of the audience thought it would feature mostly wind and sun energy. Asked when Europe would be using only sustainable energy, most members of the audience thought it would happen in around 2060. Moderator Dorothy Grandia from RSM asked if this 43-year time frame is realistic; what’s the timeline for the transition?

 

“People underestimate progress of technology,” said Ab van der Touw, CEO of Siemens. “In 1972 the front cover of Time magazine predicted home computers. People also overestimate. The only realists are the engineers; you need a realistic approach.” Christopher McLachlan, co-founder of pear.ai, a Silicon Valley start-up and runner-up in the Erasmus Energy Awards 2017, said the finance industry should look at energy from a different perspective. “Until the 70s this was bold industry that was testing new things. In the 70s and 80s it was a super reliable investment industry. It now needs to get back into the equation.” McLachlan said his start-up’s slogan was ‘let’s make energy fun again’. “Coming from a utility start-up, and providing an app and transmitting energy data with moving animals, it puts a smile on people’s faces. You just need to dare to do this.” Ab van der Touw: “I agree with Rotmans that it’s not about energy in the first place. You need to take people along so they don’t lose their jobs. We need social innovation and reorganisation of the labour force. You should reckon with that.” He said you must present new perspectives in a way that people understand. “I welcome conferences like this one, they play a major part in that.” Prof. Wolf Ketter said US President Donald Trump tries to infiltrate his fear and yet the renewable energy industry is providing many more jobs. It’s RSM’s duty as a business school to come up with new programmes for the future and to be optimistic about it. It’s about hope instead of fear. Moderator Dorothy Grandia suggested that inclusiveness might be a way ‘to get the mojo going again’. The more conservative the business model, the less diversity in the mental framework, she said. A majority of the audience (80 per cent) agreed that technology and social innovation are equally important for accelerating the energy transition. Ab van der Touw said there’s a big division between the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean. “You need time to re-educate; social innovation is a prerequisite. There’s no other way than taking your time with social innovation.” There’s been a debate about developers in Silicon Valley, said McLachlan. “They will be laid off because computers are programming themselves,” he said, and mentioned the idea of a basic income because humans will still excel in the creative part and working with people, which is what many start-ups focus on, so how can this be leveraged? This is not only an energy problem, it’s in all industries.” Prof. Ketter supported the idea of a basic income. There are so many different developments and experiments in automation and artificial intelligence, he said. We really have to re-educate all that labour force. The workforce is ageing in Europe and China, said Van der Touw. Zhang agreed: “A small percentage of people create a lot of value. Social innovation is far more important than technological innovation, no matter what country or society.” Asked if the energy transition is a burden or a beckoning perspective that will bring rewards, most of the audience agreed with the latter – that it’s a beckoning perspective. Members of the panel continued to debate the question: “There’s a vision but we need a common path,” said van der Touw. “We might run into huge havoc if there’s a breakthrough technology that’s not wind. You need to experiment in many fields.” McLachlan: “We’ve been missing a dot on the horizon. People can’t engage with these types of ideas. There’s a lot of disruption, especially in Silicon Valley. It’s easier for people to engage when you show dots on the horizon.”