Sunshine on the road

Those were the words of Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, at Singapore International Energy Week.

His speech left me thinking about the challenge we are facing when it comes to energy – in particular, the need to meet rising demand while reducing emissions. Over 37 years working in the energy industry, I have seen time and time again how the actions and inaction of individual countries can have impacts that resonate around the world.

In this sense Dr. Birol is right, the challenge is truly global - no country is an energy island.

But while the challenge may be global, when it comes to meeting it, the solutions may be very different in different parts of the world.

That is certainly true when it comes to the future of transport, and its role in the energy transition.

In recent months I have discussed the future of mobility in the UK, Germany and China as well as in Singapore, to try and gain further insight into how we are tackling the transition to a lower-carbon mobility system around the globe.

I have seen first-hand how countries and regions are finding new and varied solutions and, in some instances, different ways to implement the same solutions.

I have learned a lot and it has reiterated to me that in order to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and tackle climate change we will need to learn from one another, and implement the right solutions in the right locations.

During my conversations with industry leaders and academics in China, a country that boasts around half the global production of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), I heard a prediction that close to 98% of cars driven by 2050 would be level 4 autonomous vehicles – meaning they would be completely self-driven in controlled areas, such as cities.

There was also general agreement that natural gas has obvious advantages as a vehicle fuel in terms of lowering emissions and cost. The IEA found that China accounted for almost a third of a global 3% rise in natural gas demand in 2017. Last year alone 96,000 liquefied natural gas (LNG) trucks were built in China.

Similarly in Germany, Enak Ferlemann MP and Parliamentary State Secretary for the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure picked out LNG, alongside Hydrogen, as being crucial to the future of German mobility. The German government have announced the first LNG terminal in Germany and intend to convert more and more ships to run on LNG.

This will complement a network of Hydrogen stations and a largely electrified railway. Today there are approximately 50 hydrogen stations in Germany and Shell is helping, as part of the H2 Mobility Partnership, to complete a nationwide network of 400 stations by 2023. Meanwhile Mr. Ferlemann went on to say that Germany has also electrified 60% of its railways, accounting for 90% of the journeys taken.

Governments around the world are facing the same question: what should be the fuel of the future? As we can see from China and Germany there won’t be one fuel, but many, and they will be introduced at different paces in different countries.

What works today in London may not work as well in Singapore, Beijing or Berlin. Societal needs will, as always, continue to drive governmental decision-making. Despite increasing use of renewable energy, oil and gas demand continues to grow around the world and fossil fuels still account for around 81% of global energy demand – as they have for roughly 30 years.

The pathways to a lower-carbon future of transport will therefore be varied. While Hydrogen vehicles develop in Germany, new low-sulphur shipping fuels are being introduced in Singapore.

With this in mind, it is clear that global collaboration will be required. As energy-demand continues to increase, energy security, the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price, becomes ever more crucial.

This is why we must recognise that we don’t live on energy islands. Together we share a goal to meet the aims of the Paris Agreement. Yet, we must also remember that each country faces challenges unique to their own situation when attempting to do so. By learning from each other and adapting, we can overcome them but we will only do so by working together.

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