Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent shockwaves across the globe. It seems someone needs to tell Putin that the ‘good old days’ of the Soviet Union were consigned to the history books long ago, and such violent and barbaric political moves will not be tolerated in the 21st century.
According to figures from Research Group Transport & Environment, the EU gets roughly 40 per cent of its gas and a quarter of its oil from Russia. 34 per cent of Germany’s crude oil was sourced from Russia in 2021 alone. The invasion has only sharpened the urgency to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian resources.
As 60 per cent of the Russian economy is based on fossil fuels, Putin is cutting his nose off to spite his face, rapidly accelerating the world’s collective drive to obtain clean ‘freedom energy’.
Political sanctions begun just hours after troops invaded Kyiv. We’re now seeing international communities join together to unite in climate goals, investors are shifting their capital to more climate-friendly ventures, and multinationals have responded by ceasing all trading with the former Soviet Union. McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola are just a few of the major names that have pulled the plug on their Russian operations.
Last week, the German coalition government announced its plans to ramp up energy efficiency, France’s Prime Minister Macron has called for a ‘renaissance’ of low-carbon nuclear power, and US President Joe Biden has reignited his proposals for his clean energy programme.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, publicly slammed Shell for buying oil from Russia amid the escalating crisis, asking, “Doesn’t Russian oil smell of Ukrainian blood?”
It’s clear that the Russian invasion has amplified the globe’s sense of urgency. People from either side of the political fence have allied in a collective mission to deplete Putin’s impact.
But while Germany has brought forward its goal of 100 per cent renewable energy to 2035, the government in Berlin has since announced it will continue to buy natural gas, oil, and coal from Russia – for the meantime.
Policymakers and state leaders are now stuck between a rock and a hard place as they weigh up the short- and long-term impacts of cutting immediate ties with the former Soviet Union. Disappointingly, there is still a lack of alternative energy sources to use instead, and electric battery storages have not yet reached sufficient capacity to sustain the European bloc.
“We can’t rely on a dictator’s fossil fuels,” says Wolfgang Kick, DACH Managing Director of Hyperion, “but we simply don’t yet have the means and resources to transition fully.”
Kick says Germany and the rest of the world’s journey to net zero needs to be accelerated, yes, but it must be done without sacrificing the Western bloc’s economy on the way. The solution for Germany (and the rest of Europe) is to aim for an independent energy function – and policymakers, regulators, and political parties need to align their goals accordingly.
Germany was the first country in Europe to have a Green Party government in power, and with its plans to bring forward 100 per cent renewable energy to 2035, the country is truly leading by example. But these policies and bids mean nothing if other powers and frameworks don’t align.
On average, the planning process for a small wind farm can take up to six years due to complex and lengthy regulatory frameworks which delay the inevitable. Environmental agencies and bodies must align with the clean technology sector if they want to avoid further blood being shed.
David Hunt, Founder and CEO of Hyperion says alternative hybrid solutions won’t cut it either. “The reason we’re in this mess in the first place is because we’ve been half-arsing renewables for the last 10 years,” he says.
So, what do businesses in cleantech need to do?
The answer lies in investing in talent through training and development.
The biggest problem the cleantech sector is juggling with is the ongoing labour and skill shortage. Workers will be at the heart of the clean energy transition – as employment in the energy sector increases to 100 million by 2050 – and reskilling will be the core of every growth plan.
However, delays in the reskilling mission come down to lack of time and finances to do so, therefore it’s crucial for companies to explore more agile ways to reskill the workforce.
Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day and retraining won’t happen overnight, but there’s no reason why an oil and gas engineer can’t be trained for a hydrogen project. These skills developed over decades in other industries are still very much transferable. Believe it or not, you don’t need to have a renewable energy background to join the sector.
What we are also seeing is an increased interest and inquisitiveness. More talented individuals are seeking a career switch to one with more meaning and purpose – one their children won’t be ashamed of – and this is sufficient to get the ball rolling. You can nurture this hunger and curiosity and build upwards.
The next question is how quickly we can transfer this to the energy transition, and save millions of lives while we’re at it.
At Hyperion, we work with global startups and scaleups, including some notable companies backed by Bill Gates’ Energy Breakthrough Ventures organisation, playing our crucial part in placing the talent needed to achieve net zero. The Russian invasion has re-emphasised how seriously we take our planet and its people. Putin has not and will not conquer Ukraine – we won’t let him. But one thing he has succeeded in is uniting the rest of the world to take him down – one wind turbine at a time.