The pandemic made us realise a lot of things, among these are the significance of shifting to cleaner energy, supply chain resilience, and health and hygiene in the workplace.
Not everyone can observe something positive out of a negative situation like a pandemic that shocked this world, but this is certainly what Joerg Gmeinbauer, Global Vice President for Power and Utilities at Bureau Veritas, finds. In an interview with Enlit Asia, Gmeinbauer tells us how COVID-19 has allowed us to see better versions of the community, a changed mindset for our energy future, and a more focused approach on building the supply chain as well as in promoting health and safety in the workplace.
A stronger global community, this is what Gmeinbauer has seen as the most remarkable impact of the pandemic. “We have seen a stronger global community coming together through a crisis, and everyone has benefitted from exchanging information about business continuity plans and emergency responses,” he underscores. “We have actually been benefiting in Europe from a lot of what we’ve learned in Asia, specifically in China, where we have a very large operation, and also in Southeast Asia.”
Throughout the pandemic, the industry has remained committed to its purpose of delivering secure, sustainable, and affordable power, and overall, the energy sector has performed remarkably well despite the crisis. Since the beginning of the global lockdowns, there have been many who have questioned the impact on the energy transition, with some emphasising the need to “refocus on rescuing the world rather than building a nice future.” But fortunately, we’ve seen an altogether different scenario with renewable energy gaining momentum and will continue to be stable in the coming years.
“Low carbon, low carbon, and low carbon” – this is Gmeinbauer’s answer when asked for the top trends he believes will impact the industry in the next five years, noting the recent developments in the renewables sector across the world. For Southeast Asia, offshore wind, onshore wind, and solar have been gaining a lot of traction, welcome news for Bureau Veritas, which has been in the renewables space since two decades ago, and has pushed the company to transfer its capabilities in Europe to Asia to support this growth.
An interesting effect of the pandemic on the move towards a cleaner energy future for Southeast Asia can be is the shift in the mindset it has caused in the population and the government. Prior to the pandemic, the problem of climate change was easily ignored because people don’t see it affecting the way they live their current lives. But today, the conversation has actually spun to a bigger concern for building a cleaner energy future with people thinking about the possibility of another global crisis, having lived through this one.
Gmeinbauer also says that governments and policymakers are leaning more towards the energy transition rather than dwelling on the current economic climate. In Southeast Asia, this certain mindset is seen with the number of projects being unlocked, says Gmeinbauer. Likewise, if we review the cost level of renewables over the past few years, even before the pandemic, we can notice how it has significantly dropped, thus, making renewables more commercially available.
There are undeniably good reasons to believe that the industry can be very proud of its performance this year despite COVID-19, but there are vulnerabilities which made themselves visible during this crisis. One, the industry is transforming into a more digitalised one. Digital assets or data are becoming equally important as physical assets, says Gmeinbauer, and this poses a challenge for utilities to maintain data integrity and data reliability.
Meanwhile, we are experiencing supply chain disruptions from lockdowns or movement restrictions. We cannot really blame this on the pandemic because this susceptibility of the supply chain has been around even before the crisis. We only really noticed it because of COVID-19, and now as operators are becoming increasingly aware of this issue, supply chain resilience has been a key discussion topic. Gmeinbauer also notices a bigger drive towards localisation. However, we are yet to see the changes in supply chain flows over the next few months and years. Bureau Veritas acknowledges this concern, so to help its customers, the company has launched a new product called “Supply-R”, where they assess customers’ supply chains against a catalogue of criteria and help them optimise and be better prepared for disruptive situations.
As lockdowns ease and as we hopefully get closer to a vaccine, health and hygiene regulations have become top considerations in restarting business operations. Implementing and following the right protocols to protect employees and stakeholders without compromising economic benefits are crucial. Even though the industry has performed well during the pandemic, it cannot stay on “emergency mode” forever, asserts Gmeinbauer.
To hear the full recording of this interview, visit Enlit Asia’s Expert Insights Series, Episode 10.