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Published

9 November 2023

Carbon capture, storage and utilisation – a necessary step towards decarbonisation or rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?

CCUS is one of many decarbonisation strategies currently being adopted worldwide, but leading the implementation of this technology has its fair share of challenges. Is your energy or industrial sector business ready to take this technology on?

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At a glance:

  • Although widely accepted as a viable decarbonisation strategy, scaling up CCUS remains controversial.
  • As CCUS hasn’t yet been commercialised at scale, the pool of experienced leaders in this space is limited.
  • Partnering with executive search firms and structuring these leadership roles differently can help to fill this void.

Across the energy mix, many technologies are being trialled and utilised to deliver on climate goals and support the transition towards a greener energy future. Some of these technologies – like solar, wind and hydro – supply sustainable and renewable sources of energy. Other technologies – like carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) – offer ways to reduce the environmental impact of producing and using energy from traditional fossil fuels.

“As the need to decarbonise grows, discussion continues around the role that CCUS will play in the clean energy transition,” says Kester Guy-Briscoe, a Principal for Gerard Daniels in London. “But although it is widely accepted that the energy and industrial processes need to decarbonise, the use of CCUS to achieve this remains a complex issue.”

Here we consider the value that CCUS can bring to the energy transition; the challenges that energy and industrial sector leaders face around implementing CCUS; and how executive search can help to address close the talent gap.

Part of the solution, or the problem?

The obvious challenge in decarbonisation is to replace carbon intensive energy from coal, oil and gas with more sustainable sources, but this requires society to decouple from energy sources that are deeply embedded in our infrastructure and our way of life.

“No single solution or technology can achieve this, but by capturing, transporting, storing and utilising carbon from the energy processes that source fossil fuels, and the industrial processes that burn them, CCUS offer a supplementary approach to decarbonisation,” says Kester. “In doing so, CCUS can help to reduce carbon emissions in hard-to-abate industries such as cement or steel production, while sustainable energy production and distribution technologies are scaled up.”

“Some people still question the merit of CCUS, in the belief that it will perpetuate the reliance on fossil fuels at a time when we need to be moving away from them,” he continues. “However, as acceptance grows around the fact that decarbonisation requires a wide range of technologies and approaches, CCUS will become a critical and cost effective tool for decarbonising these sectors and progressing the energy transition.”

Addressing the leadership challenge

In addition to navigating conflicting views around decarbonisation, there are some additional leadership challenges for organisations looking to scale up the use of CCUS.

“Renewable energy technologies like solar and offshore wind are relatively well established, so there is plenty of experienced talent to draw on when searching for leaders in these sectors,” says Kester. “But because CCUS hasn’t yet been commercialised at scale, it’s much harder to find leaders to implement these technologies without an established or sizeable talent pool to draw on.”

A partnership approach

To implement technologies like CCUS, organisations need leaders with a strong tactical understanding of the science and the geology, but also the strategic, commercial and project development skills to deploy this technology at scale. Finding talent with this combined experience can be challenging.

“We have helped clients to move forward with energy transition appointments by drawing on a deep international network of technical and leadership talent,” says Kester. “Having spent a considerable amount of time engaging with, coaching and developing leaders, our consultants are also able to independently assess leaders based on not only their capability, but also their potential and transferrable skills, bringing valuable alternative perspective to the search for leaders in this space.”

Thinking differently

To commercialise energy technologies like CCUS, organisations may need to think creatively about how they appoint talent, and how they structure their leadership teams to deliver on this change.

“Where sufficient technical and leadership experience can’t be found in a single candidate, organisations might consider appointing both a technical and a commercial lead to work collaboratively and learn from each other during the early phase of implementing CCUS,” says Kester. “Not only can this approach allow functional specialists in both technical and commercial disciplines to do their best work, but it can also help to fill these gaps in the talent pipeline.”

Building global networks

Large underground storage areas are needed to store carbon and geology can be vastly different from one location to the next. For example, the geological conditions that enable the USA’s Federal Petroleum Reserve differ greatly from the more fractured nature of the UK’s geology. 

“Because this geological variation exists, there will naturally be quite different uptake and attitudes towards CCUS, depending on where in the world you operate,” says Kester. “These regional differences are further compounded by diverse philosophical attitudes, that complicate the search for leadership opportunities in some locations.”

“If you are looking to grow your energy transition experience around CCUS but there isn’t a market for this specialism in your region, connecting with a global executive search firm can help to grow your exposure and connect you with new opportunities elsewhere,” he continues.

To find new energy transition talent for your organisation or uncover your next leadership challenge, connect with Kesteror reach out to your local Gerard Daniels team.

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