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The future of the energy industry is application, not invention.

By Professor Richard Clegg, Managing Director, Lloyd’s Register Foundation

richard_cleggIn medicine, there is a great deal of research underway into methods of conducting internal examinations in a non-invasive way to minimise the need for surgery. In the energy industry, we call that non-destructive examination. It’s the same thing, it’s just called something else. This example demonstrates the shape of technological development in the years to come: it won’t be a case of each industry inventing and discovering its own new technology; rather, the task will be to apply and configure technology that comes from other sectors.

The new technologies that are likely to have the greatest impact in the near-term future are largely enabling technologies - big data, nanotechnology, 3D printing, resilience engineering, autonomous robotic systems, advances in telecommunications. But they are not necessarily sector-specific and, more often, they enable more than one sector to do something. The original application may be specific, but the underpinning technology is generic. 

This becomes even more interesting when we start to broaden our concept of related industries. In the past, the energy industry has seen its neighbours largely in industrial terms: heavy manufacturing, transport, marine, aerospace. To a large extent, many of the key emerging technologies will appear in those industries but nonetheless, we need to be braver and more visionary. When we look beyond our traditional sister industries we find that seemingly unrelated sectors are a rich seam of innovation and technology. The medical and gaming industries, for example, are environments where a great number of technologies or applications of technologies are going to be developed. It will be our job to adapt them and configure them for energy industry applications, such as equipment or perhaps even mathematics, and carry it across to our sector. 

With the arrival of these new capabilities, the workforce will need different skills and experience to do their jobs in the future. There has been much dialogue about skills shortage but that belies the fact that the future is not more of the same – it is different. The issue is not that we need more skills, but that we need different skills. Of course, this means that companies need to embrace the challenge of building a workforce today for the business of the future. The key is to have a vision of what that business of the future looks like, and what sort of company it intends to become. That will help determine what size and skill composition of workforce is needed, and what technologies are instrumental to delivering that. Only when the business understands its vision for the future can it go about building a sound foundation for it. That vision needs to be very flexible because as the journey goes on, the vision evolves as the business refines and de-risks it – but it is vital to have that vision. As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. 

For more insight and analysis on technological innovation and the outlook for the sector, download the Lloyd’s Register Energy Oil & Gas Technology Radar.

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