We spoke to Christina Aabo, Head of R&D at global renewables developer Ørsted as part of our latest Talks Energy series, The race to deep decarbonization, about the importance of technology and innovation in the race to deep decarbonization, and the crucial role of cross-industry and governmental collaboration.
Renewable technology - and offshore wind in particular – has enjoyed rapid growth in the last decade across developed nations. In countries and markets such as the UK, Denmark, Germany and China, the roll out of renewable technology has been swift – even if those nations still face major challenges in phasing out carbon-intensive methods.
But not all economies are on an equal footing, and don’t necessarily have the incentive programmes and support structures in place to ensure a rapid and smooth transition to new forms of low-carbon energy. Ørsted’s Head of R&D, Offshore, Christina Aabo shares this view and recognizes that more needs to be done to ensure parity and meet deep decarbonization demands across the world. At the heart of this, Christina says, is the need to recognize this inequality quickly and understand the specific challenges in each market:
“For some markets, it is not economically feasible to be competitive when it comes to conventional fuels and new markets may not have an established supply chain. There might be a higher cost still for deployment and some kind of support schemes or tariffs - or contract for difference, might be needed to accelerate or deploy offshore wind in those markets.”
Understanding the differences between these markets is crucial in addressing disparities, she says: “What we need is a dialogue between governments to build a regulatory framework around reaching deep decarbonization. What are their ambitions? How transparent is the market? What do they plan for conventional or nuclear power plants, and what do they expect their electricity consumption to be in the coming years?”
But when armed with this knowledge, Christina thinks the technology needed to support deep decarbonization does exist – we don’t need a technology revolution, it just needs to be implemented carefully:
“The technologies, we basically have them. Of course, there needs to be innovation, adaption and improved technology, but what matters is how we integrate them together and make a system that works. For example, it’s about making a hydrogen plant work with a connection to wind energy.”
Collaboration is vital in making systems work together, and for companies like Ørsted, this means working across the industry to find common solutions and accelerating the pace of innovation and change. “We’ve worked with direct competitors on offshore energy projects like the Carbon Trust offshore wind accelerator, research and innovation platform for over a decade now,” Christina explains. “The 10 largest wind developers often collaborate on R&D projects and by doing this together, we can change the standard of how we do things in the renewable wind market.”
Ørsted is well-positioned to understand the opportunities available through decisive change, having completely transferred its energy portfolio away from fossil fuels and, within the next two years, aims to phase out its coal consumption in thermal power plants and become 100% renewable. The company is also investing heavily in hydrogen as a way to help decarbonize industries such as transportation and heavy manufacturing. This, Christina believes, is the next big shift that’s needed:
“We are making sure renewable energy can be fed into other energy sectors and systems to ensure industries such as transportation and manufacturing can be decarbonized. In the future, I see this being a huge market and will be a paradigm shift, not just focusing on renewable energy generation but taking it into new sectors that can be electrified.”
But, for Christina, it’s not just about collaboration with governments and developers, or making the technology work harder, but engaging with the consumer too: “It is a little bit difficult as a consumer, for instance with electricity, to make some choices. But I do think the more green energy solutions we offer, the more consumers will be aware. The green consumption movement that we have now in the high penetration areas of renewables is kickstarting a trend where more and more people as consumers are more and more conscious about their choices.”