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5 Positive Energy Industry Transformations Inspired by COVID-19

The World Bank’s latest projections suggest COVID-19 could result in a contraction of around 5% to the global economy, putting tens of millions at risk of extreme poverty.

The energy industry has faced its own challenges at this difficult time, with utilities around the world stepping up to keep the lights on. This comes at a time when the industry must tackle lower revenue due to reduced overall demand, while keeping residential electricity supply consistent and affordable.

Yet in any period of adversity, emerges a unique opportunity. COVID-19 has transformed how we operate as a society, with long-lasting implications for businesses, government, and citizens. Here are 5 positive transformations that are changing the energy industry landscape for the better.

1. Championing key workers

True superheroes don’t wear masks or capes. They walk amongst us – those who bravely risk their lives performing their call of duty. Throughout the pandemic, support for healthcare workers has been prominent, with ‘clap for carers’ style events taking place as nations celebrate the frontliners at the forefront of this crisis.

There is also a growing recognition of other key workers who so often go hidden in our daily lives. Local farmers, delivery riders, banking personnel and electricity supply operators kept nations moving, inspiring greater awareness and appreciation of their roles. While Malaysia entered its Movement Control Order (MCO), Singapore its Circuit Breaker, and Indonesia its large-scale social restrictions (PSBB), engineers and workers were out on the frontlines, keeping our energy infrastructure turning.

2. Renewed government investment

COVID-19 has been a period of transformation. It has shown that things can be done differently, but that investments are required to drive forward that change. In just a few months, over US$10 trillion has been pledged by governments across the world to support economies impacted by COVID-19. That reflects a remarkable economic impact, bugreent also a huge economic opportunity.

Government commitments to drive an economic rebound means historic inertia in investment has been shattered

Government commitments to drive an economic rebound means historic inertia in investment has been shattered. In 2017, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that developing regions of Asia alone require US$1.7 trillion annual investment in infrastructure such as power, telecommunications, and sanitation.

Decision makers across the globe are pumping investment to keep economies turning. Analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that a green recovery from COVID-19 could boost global GDP by an additional 1.3% per year. That means historic investment could have a historic impact.

3. Supporting greener energy

Another area of awareness that has shown encouraging growth during COVID-19 has been in the pressing need to support the ongoing energy transition. As factories and offices shut down, reports of dolphins swimming close to shores and wild animals walking across towns emerged. Air pollution decreased in several countries across the world, with citizens reporting clearer skies.

In the midst of this global health crisis, it seems society is increasingly recognising the importance of the looming climate change challenge. A global study of 28,000 adults in 14 countries undertaken by researchers Ipsos shows 65% of respondents believe governments should prioritise climate change in their post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

COVID-19 could present an opportunity to accelerate the green energy transition in Southeast Asia, boosted by increased government focus, and the transformation of public opinion. That means energy ecosystem operators can enjoy greater support in adopting the necessary measures to enable this transition.

The right investment can also unlock a substantial employment opportunity. According to the IEA, the energy industry directly employs around 40 million people globally. That makes it a significant part of both economic opportunity, as well as a fundamental part of modern infrastructure.

The IEA estimates that as many as three million energy industry jobs have been lost, or at risk during COVID-19. A focused green recovery could change that. With the right investment, a low-carbon pathway following the pandemic could save or create up to nine million jobs, unlocking new opportunities in energy efficiency, manufacturing, and low-carbon transport. This period of volatility could be the pathway to a new, low-carbon, high-skilled jobs future.

4. Driving digital adoption

At the height of COVID-19’s spread, somewhere between 3-4 billion of the world’s population were in lockdown. That enforced a remarkable transformation in how economies operated.

Digital tools enabled virtual monitoring of utility assets. Video conferencing allowed experienced engineers to support each other across the world. Now the energy industry is set to reap the benefits of greater digital opportunity thanks to the accelerated adoption of innovations inspired by COVID-19.

The global lockdown also shed light on the importance of embracing new and emerging technologies. Smart meters are one such innovation which has gained greater awareness and significance. During the lockdown, energy customers who had installed smart meters could access their updated electricity bills at any time, any day. Their smart meters eliminated the need for ‘estimated billing’, which analogue meter users had to endure, since electricity workers could not physically measure home meters during the lockdown. Combined with the convenience of mobile apps, smart meter customers could access, manage, plan, and pay for their energy usage accurately.

5. Celebrating social value

The energy industry has long been a foundation of economic and social opportunity. COVID-19 has shown how the industry continues to support nations and citizens around the world.

Across Southeast Asia, energy companies have been moving to respond to the current crisis, donating funds, cutting bills, and working to ensure consumers can continue to afford their basic energy needs. Malaysian utility Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) pledged almost RM28 million to tackle COVID-19 along with thousands of ringgit worth of PPE, while national energy company PETRONAS leveraged the technical expertise of its Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team to develop respiratory devices to assist COVID-19 treatment.

This period of adversity has created challenges across all industries, but it’s also highlighted the deep commitment to supporting society that is at the heart of the energy industry.

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