Net zero future requires a rethink of energy supply chain strategy

22 November 2021 4 min. read

Hot on the heels of COP26, the race to achieve net zero is gathering momentum. Vinodkumar Raghothamarao, Director Consulting for EMEA at IHS Markit, outlines why successfully achieving net zero ambitions will require a rethink of energy supply chain strategies.

2050, 2060 and 2070. Three sacrosanct years as governments from across all corners of the world have unleashed ambitious net zero targets at the recent COP26 conference. Governments, companies and institutions have all joined the bandwagon working hard to meet these ambitious decarbonization targets, including net zero emission targets.

To meet these ambitious targets existing and new technologies will need to be deployed at a pace and scale far beyond anything previously imagined or experienced. This creates enormous challenges for supply chains that do not currently exist at scale – or exist at all. The magnitude and pace of this industrial transformation raises considerable risks and uncertainty as well as very significant opportunities.

Vinodkumar Raghothamarao, Director Consulting EMEA, IHS Markit

Yet, at the same time, decision makers face a welter of contradictory information regarding low carbon energy technologies and the supply chains that will be needed to support them.

To navigate the path to net zero, companies in the energy value chain will have to (re)define their strategic approach and become either resource specialists, integrated energy players, or low-carbon players. The direction a company takes often goes hand in hand with a national strategy on the part of many oil producing nations to decrease their dependence on fossil fuels.

Achieving net zero could require installed capacities of solar PV, wind turbines and grid- connected batteries to increase by factors of 14x, 9x and 160x respectively by 2050. The demand for vehicle batteries will increase even more rapidly, growing from an annual 144 GWh in 2019 to 1,400 GWh by 2030, a nearly ten-fold rise in a decade.

The supply chains to support this growth are nascent, and highly geographically concentrated. Currently, for solar and battery technologies, the top 3 countries account for over 80% of global manufacturing capacity, and for certain components in the supply chain the geographical concentration is even greater.

Supply chain bottlenecks

Bottlenecks in the global supply chain threaten to drive up renewable-power costs, reversing a decade-long trend that made wind and solar mainstream. Solar panels are also in high demand and are critical to mitigate climate change but have been particularly hard hit this year by supply chain problems.

The solar industry is reeling with market disruptions over trade and logistics issues. Supply uncertainty and constraints are fueling cost increases and potential delays in solar projects — a major concern for utilities and other purchasers that rely on solar as the go-to resource for transitioning to clean energy.

This makes it all the more urgent to assess the resilience of supply chains for low carbon technologies and the opportunities for growth and diversification. At the same time there is the need to assure the sustainability and socio-environmental impact – from raw material extraction all the way through to end of life disposal or recycling.

Stakeholders want to understand the full lifecycle carbon emissions from source to deployment to assess the true reductions in GHG emissions from adoption of alternative low carbon energy sources and the associated costs and investment implications.

The key decision makers to embrace net zero energy transition should have a thorough understanding of the following

  • Understand the characteristics of the existing ‘cleantech’ supply chains and the networks that support them
  • Evaluate the scale and nature of the investments, supply sources, supply chains and costs needed to meet net zero ambitions by 2050/2060/2070
  • Articulate the new supply chains and business models required to deliver at the scale required
  • Formulate the strategies, understand the investment risks and assess opportunities for energy companies, investors and supply chain participants
  • Develop a deeper understanding of how the geopolitical factors and government policy drive supply chain localization. Understand the potential for developing local suppliers and supply chains, and the implications
  • Evaluate the life-cycle emissions and sustainability of these supply chains and assess the opportunities for recycling and re-use.
  • Understand the role of innovation and technology to meet supply chain challenges

Going forward, supply chain strategy will need a rethink in order to effectively support the net zero energy transition. Improved net zero supply chain resiliency, collaborative supplier relationship management with focus on emission metrics in procurement, alternative strategic sourcing of rare earth minerals, fully integrated supply chain model, supply chain decarbonization are some of the measures to be undertaken by the energy companies.