Energy Transition Now - Episode 18 with Amy Bowe
This week in David Linden speaks with Amy Bowe, VP of ESG Africa Oil Corp on “The Energy Transition in Africa”.
A lot of air time is given to the energy transition in Europe, Asia and North America, places where in theory the majority of today’s GDP and emission sit. However, Africa clearly has its very own dynamics with 17% of the worlds population, but just 6% of global energy demand and with more than half the population lacking access to electricity.
Amy was appointed VP of ESG at Africa Oil Corp. in September 2022. In this role, she has responsibility for developing and overseeing implementation and management of the company’s environmental, social and governance strategies,policiesandmanagementsystemsandprocesses.
Amy has nearly 20 years of experience within the energy industry, with a strong focus on climate risk and strategy. Prior to Africa Oil, Amy served as head of Wood Mackenzie’s newly created Carbon Research practice. In this role, she was responsible for developingnew carbon-related products and offerings. These included the company’s suite of industry leading Emissions Benchmarking Tools, which provide transparency into emissions performance and risk down to the asset level for both Oil & Gas and Metals & Miningoperations.
Prior to launching the Carbon Research practice, Amy spent eight years with Wood Mackenzie’s Consulting team, where she originated and co-led development of Wood Mackenzie’s Emissions Benchmarking initiative. She also led the Consulting team’s broader Carbon offering, including energy transition strategy development, lifecycle emissions analysis of portfolios and investments and scenario analysis for purposes of TCFD disclosure.
Before Wood Mackenzie, Amy spent four years at Hess Corp., the majority of which time she worked as a member of Hess’ Corporate Strategy team. In that role, she conducted long-term supply and demand analyses of oil, gas, and broader primary energy trends, and helped to develop the company’s climate change strategy. Amy has also worked as a Senior Oil Analyst for PIRA Energy, an Analystwith PFC Energy’s Upstream Competition Service, and an Analyst with Ziff Brothers Investments’ energy sector team in New York.
Amy holds an MA in International Relations and Economics from Johns Hopkins School
David: Hello, everyone. I’m your host, David Linden, the Head of Energy Transition for the Westwood Global Energy Group. And you’re listening to Energy Transition Now, where we discuss what the transition really means for oil and gas and the broader energy industry. A lot of airtime is given to the energy transition in Europe, Asia and North America, places where in theory the majority of today’s GDP and emission sit. But today I’d like to talk about the energy transition in Africa, which has its very own dynamics, and to explore that, I’m really happy to have Amy Bowe, the VP for ESG for Africa Oil Corp here with me today. Great to have you on the podcast, Amy.
Amy: Pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.
David: This is quite a big topic which gets, you know, different viewpoints, maybe even emotions going in terms of the role that the energy transition has to play in this part of the world. But maybe just to start off with some of the basics for us, you know, as I said in my mini intro there Africa has a sort of a different energy transition context, to maybe some of the other regions of the world. Could you maybe just tell us a little bit about why that is?
Amy: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think the first thing to understand about Africa is that despite having 17 percent of the world’s population. Africa accounts for only six percent of global energy demand and about two percent of the world’s emissions. More than half the population of Africa lacks access to electricity, and so a lot of the arguments that you hear from African leaders, as well as the African business community, is very much that Africa still needs to develop economically. Energy access is important as part of that economic development. And since they haven’t really contributed to the global climate challenge to date, they shouldn’t be sort of punished and held back by effectively the West’s polluting history. So that’s sort of the broad context in which Africa views the energy transition and some of the challenges to think about in terms of how we expand the energy transition across the continent and balance the need for sort of cleaner energy development with energy access and economic development.
David: Very interesting. Very interesting, OK. And of course, Africa is quite a diverse continent as well. It’s difficult to say Africa, when of course you have very different regions, different levels of development, different energy systems across that. You know, it’s as difficult as saying Asia as well as Asia, of course, is very different. So, we’ll keep that in mind as we go through this. But as you rightly said that the typical mantra that I’ve certainly heard, including from local politicians, I suppose, is that because of that slightly different context, the argument goes, OK, this is not our problem in the making, and you should give us the opportunity to go from, essentially, I think I saw someone say from wood to gas first, before we do anything like renewables, which is, you know, the European, North American, et cetera, version of the transition. Do you kind of agree with that approach to things? Or is there something different they need to be thinking about?
Amy: I think there are some merits to that argument, but I think it also overlooks the opportunity that Africa has to potentially leapfrog a centralised distribution systems and go to sort of greener, more distributed systems as a way to improve energy access across the continent. Now, as you say, Africa is not a monolithic continent like there’s a lot of variety within countries in terms of their access to resources in terms of the extent of electrification. But if some analysis that was done by the IEA in 2019, for example, suggested that for about forty five percent of the population that lacks access to electricity on the continent, expanding centralised grids and improving densification of those grids would actually be the cheapest way of meeting those energy needs. Mini grids would be most appropriate for another 30 percent of that population, and distributed systems would be appropriate or most appropriate for about twenty five percent. But if you add up the kind of the proportion of the population lacking access to electricity, where mini grids and distributed systems are more appropriate, that’s 55 percent of that population. So, it’s a pretty significant proportion of the continent where that is a more appropriate solution. And if you think about the context of Africa, that makes sense, right? So maybe in big cities where of course there is a very large concentration of the population that increasing densification and expansion of centralised grids makes no sense. But there’s huge parts of Africa which are still very rural. And so those are probably the locations where it makes the most sense to look towards a more distributed form of energy. Now that’s electrification, I think. But we also need to think about is, for instance, transport. And if we’re thinking about transport models, obviously developed economies, it’s part of the energy transition are really looking mostly towards electric vehicles as a way to decarbonise the transport sector and particularly sort of the personal transport centre like light duty vehicles, obviously heavy duty vehicles, shipping, aviation, very different matter. But with light duty vehicles, it’s EVs. EVs aren’t necessarily a particularly feasible option in a country that is lacking access to electricity. So maybe when it comes to decarbonising transport in Africa, we need to accept that perhaps oil will play a longer role in terms of that transition while we look to other forms of either liquid fuels or maybe expansion of natural gas vehicles as the better solution for the continent. So, I mean, again, I think in arguing that you absolutely have to go to gas first, I’m not sure that that is, the best, I mean, as we discussed, it’s not to the best option in every case that doesn’t have to be the model that the continent follows in terms of replicating what developed economies have done. But I think we do need to realise that hydrocarbons might play a more prolonged role in Africa’s energy transition than they have in the West. And the other reason that thinking about the role for hydrocarbons is important is in terms of a revenue source for these governments. In many cases, these or these countries are very resource rich. And that is effectively the resource that they have to economically develop. And so, the question will then come down to how you do that in the most environmentally sustainable way. And also think then about how you are most appropriately using those revenues in order to develop the economy and perhaps prepare it for the energy transition down the line.
David: Yeah, it’s a fascinating, I guess question. When I’ve looked at, when I’ve looked at Africa in the past, It actually seems like, A) as you say, a really interesting opportunity to take advantage of the technology that’s evolved and take a slightly different approach, which ironically or interestingly, is actually very applicable, if you were to feed that back into, let’s say, Europe or North America when it comes to things like mini grids and distributed energy. Actually, if we we’re recording this at a time when there is an increase sort of question around resilience and energy security and those sorts of things, actually mini grids, distributed energy systems as such are meant to support that. And so, it’s almost I think Africa has been seen and can continue to be almost a leader in that space and showcase that innovation, which can then be brought back home. But as you rightly said, it’s the question of affordability, maybe or the ability to invest in that effectively and using whatever resources they have available to achieve that. So, if I hear you there, it’s then about saying it least, how do you appropriately, I guess, funnel that capital to the right locations or the right areas of investment? Yeah, when how do you say they haven’t always been the best custodians of their own resources in the past? And I’m again, I’m obviously generalising significantly here, but that has, I guess, been a theme. And so when you’re saying that, so how does something like that look, you know, do you need to be thinking about it in a kind of, you know, I mean, your job titles about ESG, you know, in that sense, are you effectively saying, OK, we need a better kind of ESG framework for that resource so that it can be appropriately produced, managed and used?
Amy: Yeah, I think there’s so many dimensions to explore in terms of how you appropriately funnel capital to Africa for the energy transition. Right? So, there’s one question about the role of government, and that’s a little bit what you’re touching on there. If we look across some of the major resource holders within the continent, there’s not always the strongest tradition of sort of resource revenue management within the continent. And so, if you want to use the argument that the continent should be allowed to develop resources in order to economically develop, then you need to make sure that there are systems in place such that that revenue is going to be correctly funneled to actually fund economic development and perhaps infrastructure that will be required for the energy transition or for climate adaptation, et cetera. And that’s challenging because there really is a need then for sort of better governance systems at sort of the country level and creating appropriate policy environments, regulatory environments and so forth. And there are perhaps multilateral institutions like the World Bank and so forth can also be influential in terms of ensuring or helping the correct environments to, I guess proliferate. But I think there’s a big role for the private sector in all of this as well, both in terms of providing finance as well as sort of working on the side of appropriate revenue management. I guess the first on the capital piece, I’ll touch on that. One of the other frequent criticisms that you often hear from African countries is that developed economies want to effectively say that Africa needs to transition and expand access to renewable energy, clean forms of energy. But the fact is, it’s really challenging to actually get funding for those types of programmes because in many cases, it’s almost a sort of double a double risk for investors, right? Like one renewables project, clean energy projects, depending on what type of technology are first seen as perhaps a riskier investment than traditional fuels. And on top of that, you’re adding in the above ground risk and political risks of operating in these environments, though lower returns associated with these technologies sometimes actual technology risk. And then the above ground risks associated with these economies. So how does the financial sector then need to change, sort of the way that they are viewing investments or create frameworks that are appropriate for ensuring that the capital needed to actually diversify and expand electricity access is created? Then there’s another role in terms of perhaps industry in the energy sector as well. So, as we are doing business in the continent, I think there is there’s different ways that we can help to facilitate that transition. So, part of that is as an actual sort of business line, right? And we do see models where effectively, you know, even the oil and gas sector is sort of paring investment in upstream projects with power looking at gas to power solutions and so forth. So that’s one way that, in fact, private sector and the oil and gas sector in particular can help to facilitate this transition. And as more and more oil and gas companies are looking to diversify and also expand investments in clean energy, thinking about how those can be applicable in these environments and whether these are attractive markets where that could be another way that the industry can contribute. And then there is more sort of the avenue around social development and social investment. So, knowing that these economies sort of lack access to electricity and that’s one identified area, how can we perhaps integrate that into our social investment programmes across the continent to bring value to the communities in which we’re operating, as well as set them up for success in the future? And then there’s the governance piece as well, which ties into more the argument about revenue management. So how can we help to facilitate responsible use of those revenue of those revenues? And that’s really through very strong governance mechanisms, ourselves being very transparent around our contracts, around our government payments so that the government is held perhaps a bit more accountable for what’s happening with the revenues that the industry is effectively contributing.
David: So, so there’s an opportunity clearly for Africa to continue to take advantage of these resources as part of that energy transition. But funneling as such, you know, the opportunity in the right direction to help itself transition in an appropriate direction. And I really like the whole idea of when you were saying sort of the pairing idea and the clean investment ideas. I mean, what are your thoughts of, I think I saw a story about ENI converting one of its refineries in Kenya, for example, into a bio refinery, to support as you rightly kind of identified there, the fact that liquids are essentially going to have to continue for a longer period of time in different parts of Africa because of the infrastructure difference. I mean, is that the kind of thing that you also see in Africa is the opportunity is that, you know, there is a lot of investment, there is a lot of opportunity, but things are differences like that in Africa are ultimately going to, you know, if you have an open enough mind, these are the kinds of investment opportunities you can be thinking about.
Amy: Yeah, absolutely. And because many companies, including ENI have set net zero targets and are also looking to kind of diversify away from oil and gas themselves, then where there is an opportunity to invest towards those new energy targets within their net zero strategies or to convert existing facilities then that makes absolute sense. I think the reality that we need to recognise, though, in terms of challenges is that in the same way that you know, the finance sector needs to be incentivised in terms of returns to invest there for the oil and gas industry as well, it does still need to be an economically viable investment to be made. And so, you know, this is where it comes back to a bit of the policy and the regulatory environment. And if we’re thinking about gas in particular, this has been a continued challenge in Africa. So, in many jurisdictions where there is significant gas production to date in Nigeria, maybe one of the prime examples gas prices have been kept, perhaps artificially low. Now that’s partly because obviously, as we’ve discussed before, that countries are sort of lacking access to energy. There’s high proportions of the population which are sort of living in poverty, so they’re trying to basically make energy as accessible as possible. But the flip side to that is that it’s not incentivising investment from the private sector. And so there needs to be a balance in terms of ensuring that the regulatory environment does create an incentive for investment and companies can get remunerated for any of the capital that is deployed in the risk that they are taking on and doing that while also balancing that against the energy access needs of these societies. So, we do need to make sure it’s affordable, but at the same time, if it never gets developed, then it’s not helping that energy access argument either.
David: You know, in theory, I mean, one of the things that somewhere like Africa could be doing right now, of course, is responding again to the difficulties faced, I guess, from an energy security perspective and energy supply perspective at this stage. But there has been a lack of sort of significant enough investment to respond to that right now. And I guess that’s just another sign of that problem. But one of the other themes that I have seen from an oil and gas perspective is, call it the beginning, if it’s not the end of divestment from, should we say, IOCs for simplicity here in this part of the world? Yeah, or consolidation to be as efficient as possible as well, of course. But these are, you know, arguably the companies that are publicly at least trying to follow that ESG agenda that you’ve talked about most closely. Admittedly, obviously, very carbon focussed in that sense, publicly, at least. But if these companies leave in that sense? Does that not put the kinds of things we’re discussing here, ultimately at risk?
Amy: Potentially, but I think that’s where so I can speak for Africa Oil. That’s where we actually see an opportunity and we are seeing that a lot of the majors in particular are divesting assets that are mature, that are non-core to their portfolios and because they are mature. They also tend to have higher emissions intensities, right? So, there’s this sort of positive relationship between maturity and emissions intensities. As assets age, they get more emissions intensive. So, it also helps to meet sort of their net zero goals in terms of decarbonising their portfolio to divest these mature non-core assets. Now because they are non-core, the majors or other large caps may not have an interest in necessarily committing the capital needed to decarbonise those assets. For a smaller company like Africa Oil or many of the other sort of independents who are operating within Africa, these assets could be very core to our portfolios, and there could be significant economic life left in the assets. And so, we therefore might be more willing to invest in order to decarbonise these assets to keep them in operation for longer and extend their life. And that is where we are actually seeing an opportunity and perhaps a competitive advantage as part of our corporate strategy overall. But also thinking then about how we continue to kind of meet our own energy transition goals and decarbonisation of our portfolios. So, we are looking at investing in assets that the majors and others are divesting. But one of the key criteria for us, I mean, we do sort of have emissions intensity is one of the criteria that we use when looking at investment opportunities. And it’s not necessarily a hard core threshold that we won’t invest in any assets that sort of exceed that emissions intensity threshold. But to consider investment in that asset, there needs to be an opportunity for us to decrease the emissions intensity. So, with every asset that we’re looking at, then we’re trying to understand how can we actually decarbonise that asset, bring down that emissions intensity as part of an ongoing investment programme?
David: Okay, well, let’s talk a little bit about Africa Oil then, because I think what you’re saying there is makes a lot of sense, but arguably as a kind of a small, independent non-operating portfolio that you do have. What you’re saying probably is harder to do, essentially. So, how would you go about setting that, I guess that strategy is about where you go and where you focus on what kind of choices do you have to make along that route?
Amy: And you’re you are absolutely right. So particularly for our existing portfolio. It is an entirely non-operated portfolio. So that means that any sort of influence, well, any decarbonisation actions, we can only achieve via influence with the operators and in some cases we actually don’t even hold a direct non-operated interest. It’s an indirect non-operated interest through kind of joint ventures and equity affiliates. So that adds another layer where we’re effectively trying to influence through our equity affiliate or JV. So that does create a challenge. I think that we have been actually quite effective in terms of getting alignment through our JV partners with the other partners in the assets in order to influence operators. But some of this also comes down to thinking about, again, sort of the types of assets that we invest in and the operators of those assets. So, in terms of our partners and operators, we are well, our assets are all operated by majors, which again have their own sort of net zero commitments or climate commitments. And so, we see them as being responsible operators, certainly from a climate perspective, but from a broader ESG perspective as well. So, choice of partners is really important. But then it comes down to again the choice, the choice of assets, too. And you are right now our one sort of producing asset is our two producing assets. They’re very they’re high quality assets. And so, you know, choosing which assets to invest in is also appropriate. Now there’s a broader question. And when thinking about decarbonisation, what choices does that mean that we need to make down the road? So, to the extent that opportunities to influence actions might be limited, what we can control is what additional opportunities we invest in.
David: OK, thanks, Amy. Just in terms of that point around decarbonisation and the assets that you’re part of -what kind of levers are you there and therefore using to achieve that?
Amy: If we think first about the scope one and scope two emissions, so those emissions directly or indirectly in the case of scope two, associated with operating those assets. I mean, there’s many levers and some of them are actually. I guess conducive to the energy transition into energy access in Africa, so for instance, flaring is a major source of emissions at many assets, particularly off West Africa. Now in Nigeria is a good example. It has had sort of regulations against flaring and fines for flaring. In fact, for many years, but is part of the new Petroleum Industry Act, they are strengthening those regulations. So, I think it will incentivise more companies to address the flaring and to the extent that flaring has principally been around sort of finding an outlet for associated gas that can’t be monetised. It will force more companies to think about how to use that gas and to monetise it either in conventional senses in terms of supplying that to the domestic market or otherwise, or maybe in sort of more innovative or novel senses as an input to hydrogen or et cetera. But then I think even though thinking about electrification of assets in Africa is a lot more challenging than perhaps in Norway. Given that again, sort of the grid itself isn’t necessarily fully developed or necessarily cleaner than sort of using associated gas for fuel. There are still some opportunities for that. I’m thinking particularly, so, for instance, if we think about our Kenyan development, so we have a development project in Kenya, which has not yet taken FID. But as part of the field development plan, we spent a lot of time looking at options to effectively bring down the emissions intensity of that asset. We did explore electrification from the Kenyan grid, and the Kenyan grid is actually has a pretty large contribution of hydro in it, so it’s a fairly clean grid mix. What we found, interestingly, is that it was actually more efficient to, so we did sort of start from a principle of cutting out all flaring of associated gas and sort of re-injecting that or using it for fuel. And it was actually less emissions intensive for us to use that associated gas for fuel combined with very efficient turbines as well as excess waste heat recovery than it was if we were to have connected to the Kenyan grid. Now we also explored within that, use of integrated renewables and again being onshore in a country where there’s relative sort of political stability makes that much more feasible. It’s not going to be an option in all locations, at a large scale at the moment, it isn’t economic for us to do that, but we are integrating use of solar for some administrative loads associated with the project upstream and midstream. So particularly as the environment changes and as the energy transition evolves, some of these options might become more economic. But in the meantime, it will still likely leave some residual emissions that need to be dealt with. You know, for us, we have decided that we will offset those emissions and rather than buying offsets over the counter, we’ve chosen to invest directly into offset projects, and we’re pursuing at the moment two potential offset projects in Kenya. And again, there, what’s nice about that is that not only does it provides a sort of secure stream of carbon offsets for our use, but it also provides social and economic benefits to the local communities in terms of supporting pastoral livelihoods, supporting biodiversity, you know, meeting other sort of economic and even educational needs as well. So, we really like these projects because they help to meet a variety of our ESG considerations. Now as we hopefully continue to bring down our scope one and two emissions. Those offsets might then also be used to kind of address that scope three emissions footprint, which of course, is much bigger and a much harder scope of emissions for any company to address compared to scope one and scope two.
David: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think I think what is interesting here, I mean, you know, I’m sitting here in London, so are you, but you know, the North Sea here has been talking about electrification and you know, how do you deal with flaring effectively, et cetera, and where you in theory, have all the world’s resources at your disposal, even there, it’s difficult, you know. I think, one shell executive was describing it as open-heart surgery as such to make any of this kind of thing happen. And so, you know, the reality, of course, is it is difficult. It is the small portion you say of the pie scope one and two. But it is difficult. But you know, I listened to there, you know, you mentioned the idea of hydrogen. You mentioned electrification. We talk a lot about offshore wind as well. And if you if something like the floating offshore wind industry actually takes off and the combination with the oil and gas sector in Africa should very much be part of that. There are other technical solutions that will come along. But I guess that’s the sort of a five to 10 year kind of horizon what you’re looking at now. There is still always going to be a technical kind of limitation to what you can achieve. So those sort of offsets play a role. Just for my understanding, I mean, you’re talking about what you’re doing here as Africa Oil Corp, et cetera. But is this a common theme you’re seeing across Africa that other companies are doing this? You don’t have to name any of them. But just for the kind of benchmarking transparency perspective is this what everyone is doing or is this a little more unusual in terms of the approach you’re taking?
Amy: I don’t know if it’s everyone, I think if you look at sort of the landscape of African focused independents very much like sort of the broader oil and gas landscape, there are some companies that are being very proactive in sort of designing energy transition strategies and kind of making sure that those are integral to their portfolio. And there are other companies which aren’t necessarily thinking about it at all. And I will say, you know, for. I think the pressures that the sector faces are perhaps a bit different than the pressures that the majors, for instance, or other large caps are facing. So again, I can only speak from my specific experience of Africa Oil, but I think speaking with others, this might resonate, there is perhaps less shareholder focus on energy transition and net zero for this segment of the market. But where there is much more pressure is from banks, and this segment of the market is also really dependent on financing in terms of reserve based lending and corporate financing, et cetera. So, it is something that the industry is grappling with and very much sort of feeling pressure to address an increasing pressure to address. But perhaps it might be a little bit, that pressure might be more recent, and so we might be a little bit sort of further down the evolution compared to other geographic segments of the industry.
David: Interesting. OK, so simply put, what you’re saying is banking and how it’s thinking about lending, let’s just say at its simplest level has evolved recently in that sense, and that’s having obviously direct impact to how you need to think about your operations and what you’re doing in your investments, essentially.
Amy: Yes, absolutely.
David: Yeah. OK. So, we’ve talked about the transition in Africa being slightly different domestically as such. But a core part of that opportunity is about ensuring you continue to develop your existing resources to support that transition. What about sort of going forwards now, the themes that we’re seeing, which is really, I guess, you know, I guess it’s a balancing act, what’s happening right now, but either how we talked about this a couple of times, but how do I increase the resilience of my supply to different parts of the world is trying to consume oil and gas? How do I secure a faster energy transition? Is maybe the other route that people are taking is this like an opportunity for Africa? Or is it a challenge in that people will start to focus on themselves rather than, you know, continuing to go further afield to either support countries that don’t have a major impact right now on emissions or are not their own domestic oil and gas supply? What’s your thoughts around that sort of macro kind of dynamic that’s going on right now?
Amy: I think it’s a complicated question if I’m understanding it correctly to begin with. I mean, I think for Africa and this is, I think, really pertinent to kind of the role that hydrocarbons play within their economy because the domestic market is more limited in terms of demand, even if that grows right, it will still be limited compared to the scale of the resource that many of these countries have. The opportunity for Africa to continue to develop their resources is really to meet continued global demand. Africa’s ability to continue to kind of develop its resources will very much depend on how fast the rest of the economy decarbonises. And if you look across any of the energy transition scenarios that have been published, whether from the IEA looking at the sustainable development scenario, the net zero scenario, any of the scenarios being developed even by some of the oil majors themselves, Shell, et cetera, all of them seem to suggest that there will be a continued demand for oil and gas even in 2050, although a substantially reduced one. But then the challenge for Africa will be how to ensure that its resources are some of the last to supply that residual demand. And for that, it’s really important to think about the emissions intensity of those operations themselves and not just the scope one and two footprint, which will be very important, but also how to manage the scope three emissions associated with those resources as well. So, these assets need to be competitive in the global context from a cost perspective, as well as from an emissions intensity perspective.
David: Perfect, Amy, thank you so much. That was super interesting to talk through Africa. Why I guess the energy transition is a little different there, but also the importance of the existing resources and the value they really hold, to make some of that transition happen, but also the role that companies like Africa Oil have in making that a reality. Thanks, everyone also for listening, I hope you enjoyed that one. Please do make sure you subscribe. Give us a good rating and share with your friends. Talk to you next time.
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