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CERAWEEK: Granholm urges industry to keep energy transition top-of-mind


Industry can 'walk and chew gum at same time'

Energy security concerns could derail transition

  • Author
  • Brandon Mulder
  • Editor
  • Debiprasad Nayak
  • Commodity
  • Electric Power Energy Transition Natural Gas

Keeping to the Biden administration's clean energy commitment, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm urged energy producers, financiers and developers to keep the energy transition in the long view while the administration attempts to ramp up oil and gas supplies in the near-term response to the Ukraine invasion, she said March 9.

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"We're serious about decarbonizing while providing reliable energy that doesn't depend on foreign adversaries," Granholm said during CERAWeek by S&P Global energy conference in Houston. "That means we'll walk and chew gum at the same time. Yes, right now we need oil and gas production to rise to meet current demand, and we're here to work with anyone and everyone who's serious about taking a leap toward the future."

Granholm highlighted the historic $62 billion allocated to the Department of Energy by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – the largest amount ever given to the department by Congress since its 1977 founding – which will be used to facilitate public-private sector partnerships.

The pile of funding seeks to advance the US energy transition in several ways, all of which are designed to bring nascent or expensive technologies to commercial scale.

The funding includes $8 billion to create at least four hydrogen hubs through a competitive grant process, and another $10 billion to develop carbon capture technologies, including $3.5 billion for four direct air capture hubs.

The bill also includes $7.5 billion to develop the US' battery supply chain, $2 billion for loans and grants for CO2 pipelines, and $85 million geothermal energy research and development.

The department has already issued several requests for information asking for industry input in designing the application process. The department is expected to issue a request for proposals for at least some of the funding items by the end of the year.

"We want you to partner on this, we want to have that cost share," she said. "We want to be very thoughtful about it but also move with alacrity."

The secretary also emphasized speeding up the permitting process, saying that "permitting is definitely on the top of my agenda" to a swell of applause.

Ukraine impacts on transition

The impact of the Ukraine crisis on the energy transition has intertwined nearly all discussions at CERAWeek. CEOs of both conventional energy companies and companies developing cutting-edge clean fuels have agreed that near-term investments in fossil fuels are necessary to keep supply up and consumer gas prices down. But momentum behind emerging technologies and energy transition markets is also unquestionably evident.

"Can we do two things at once?" asked Andrew Stuart, CEO of the water electrolyzer manufacturer Hydrogen Optimized during a March 8 panel. "What's the investment projection in fossil energy to cure these short-term requirements?"

To Ernest Moniz, former secretary of energy and president of the Energy Futures Initiative research group, the energy transition and energy security don't need to be seen as conflicting issues.

"There is a synergy in addressing climate and addressing energy security," he said March 9 in response to Granholm's remarks.

But there remains a risk that the Ukraine invasion and the consequential energy crisis could derail the thrust of the energy transition, said Meghan O'Sullivan, director of the Geopolitics of Energy Project at Harvard. While there's no reason why both can't be done at the same time, she said, concerns over energy security can easily eclipse concerns over future climate scenarios.

"There are those risks – that we focus on energy security and lose sight of climate because it's less direct," she said. "But these two things are synergistic. If there's a way we can acknowledge the role of gas and the imperative of moving away from gas, then we should be able to do both at the same time."

But that climate-security synergy is not a sure bet.

"It's an irony, but the geopolitics of this transition could end up being the greatest threat to the transition itself," she said.