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Shell’s Ben van Beurden calls on industry to be “contrarian in the room”

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 18.40.18Written by Rita Brown – 29/08/2016 12:27 pm

Shell’s chief executive Ben van Beurden called on the industry to be the “contrarian in the room” and speak the “undeniable truth” about energy’s future.

The company leader addressed the delegation at this year’s ONS, tackling climate change and the influence of the Paris climate agreement.

The chief executive opened by saying: “There is a classic story about one of the most famous Norwegians of all time, the playwright Henrik Ibsen. Lying on his sickbed, he overheard his nurse saying that he was a bit better that day.

“Ibsen sat up in bed and said in a clear voice: ‘Tvert imod’ ― on the contrary. And this was the last thing he ever said.

“Ibsen was indeed a contrarian, a character type no society should do without. Questioning commonly held beliefs with good reason is vital for tackling societal challenges.

“And when it comes to some of the beliefs about the challenge of the energy transition, which may be founded on less than solid fact, our industry should not shy away from being the contrarian in the room.

“All of us here today have a pivotal role to play in shaping the energy system of the future. With our knowledge, we have some indispensable ― and you could say, contrarian ― insights to offer.”

Van Beurden highlighted that while the technology for wind and solar left the lab as early as the 1970s, renewables accounts for only 1% of the final energy mix. Electricity accounts for 18%.

“In other words, this century’s energy landscape will inevitably be a patchwork of renewables and hydrocarbons,” he said.

“Or, to put it differently, some level of emissions will remain for some time.

“I believe it is part of our industry’s role to underline this undeniable truth. It is part of our role to be the contrarian in the room. Not because we like it, but because realism is absolutely crucial to achieving an effective and efficient energy transition.”

Building on this realism, we need to offer practical solutions that will help shape the energy transition. Carbon capture and storage is one of these solutions. CCS can capture CO2 from power plants and industrial sites and store it safely under the ground.”

Shell currently manages its Quest CCS project in Canada and has a test facility in Mongstad, Norway.

However, while the industry will bear the bulk of the energy burden, the chief executive said the sector must continue to make strides to reduce its emissions.

“This is one of the reasons behind Shell’s strategic choice for natural gas,” he said.

“When burnt to produce electricity, gas emits half the CO2 and just one-tenth the air pollutants of coal.”

While assuming the role of contrarian wasn’t “easy” van Beurden reinforced how vital it was for future energy security.

He added: “And I can tell you from my own experience it is not always comfortable either. But I believe it is the very essence of leadership in the energy transition.

“I trust you will join in working with governments, companies and civil society to help shape a viable energy future. Together we must show the world that our industry is an invaluable part of that future.”

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