What kind of leaders do we need for the transition to sustainable energy?

October 14, 2010 - No one doubts that energy production will have to become more sustainable in the near future. Views differ as to how to go about it and who should lead the change. These were the questions addressed at the conference 'Energy transition meets leadership', Tuesday in Amersfoort. Herman Scheer, president of Eurosolar and chairman of the World council for renewable energy, thinks there is no role for the present leaders of the energy-industry. They are merely blocking the way to a more sustainable future. Of course the leaders who attended the conference thought differently. They see a role for themselves.

We need leaders that keep their feet firmly on the ground
What kind of leaders do we need?, so president Peter de Wit of Shell Netherlands asked in his presentation. He referred to management guru Peter Drucker who warned against the charismatic leaders we have had in the previous century, like Hitler, Mao and Stalin. “We have had enough of them”, so said De Wit. “We need man like Eisenhower or Marshall, who were highly disciplined, highly competent and deadly dull. They kept their feet firmly on the ground and that is pretty essential.”

Disappointed on Copenhagen
This kind of leaders are missing in politics at the moment. Governments failed to reach an agreement at the conference in Copenhagen last year and that’s a pity, so thinks De Wit. Stern measures are needed, for instance to make the cap and trade system in Europe work. Only then industry is prepared to make considerable investment in the production of renewables. But also the leaders in Brussels failed and still fail, as a result of which the price of CO2-emission is too low and business is not motivated to invest in sustainable energy. “Renewable energy is only viable at a price of CO2-emission of 40 to 50 euro per ton”, says De Wit. Catrinus Jepma, president of the Delta Energy Institute, agreed with this.

Politicians fail
It would be better if, in the future, a small number of big countries gather together to pin down the rules for reducing CO2-emissions in the world, so De Wit thinks. Also Dutch politicians did not show a great deal of transitional leadership according to the Shell-president. His disappointment at the Dutch approach to carbon capture and storage (CCS) is obvious. The new government of CDA and VVD is vague about CCS in the ‘regeerakkoord’, the document that lays underneath the cooperation between the two parties. “Three years ago Holland was seen as being at the forefront of CCS, but that position is already gone.” Shell wants to store CO2 in an empty gasfield in Barendrecht, but this plan is likely going to be cancelled by the new government.

Paying a high price
A leader should also have the facts right. Whereas the price of conventional energy is 4 to 5 dollarcents per kWh, the price of wind on land is 5 to 9 cents, the price of windenergy at sea is 10 to 14 cents and the price of solar power is 20 to 50 cents per kWh. ”We pay a high price for rushing into new technologies for reaching targets on sustainable energy.” De Wit finds it of great importance that technologies are being developed that are competitive with conventional technologies and that it's the market that decides which technologies are begin adopted. As regards this aspect, De Wit is encouraged by some passages in the ‘regeerakkoord’, that indicate there are plans to stimulation innovation.

Transformational leadership
Also other speakers at the conference addressed the question as to what kind of leaders we need to make the transition happen. According to consultant Erhan Tanercan, who presided over the conference together with Jepma, we should look to the model of transformational leadership in order to find the answer. This theory is based on the idea that a leader should inspire and be able to induce his subordinates to follow, not because they will get something in return, but because they want for themselves. They have internalized the goals of the leader and that of the company as a whole of they have even identified with them. The question is whether people like De Wit, who advocate being 'deadly dull' (and in fact he is), are capable of invoking this enthusiasm in followers.

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