With a Deadly Energy Crisis Looming, Investment and a Diverse Workforce are Urgent

Oil pumpjack against a blue sky
Credit: Shutterstock photo

By Katie Mehnert, CEO, Ally Energy

The United States is facing a Catch-22 over energy and the climate. And it’s no exaggeration to say the consequences could be deadly.

States need to decarbonize in order to limit the deadly effects of climate change. But climate change has already made weather more dangerous, which requires energy -- much of which, for the time being, still comes from carbon-based fossil fuels.

The result is mixed signals. On the one hand, there are calls from the International Energy Agency to stop new oil investments in order to hit net-zero goals. On the other, the International Energy Forum (which includes oil leaders from 71 nations) and Boston Consulting Group warn that greater investment in oil and gas is needed because of inadequate international supplies. The lack of oil could worsen climate change, partly because governments would likely increase domestic oil production to make up for it, they said.

Meanwhile, much of the West is heading into summer with too little electricity, Bloomberg reports. “States shuttering coal and gas-fired power plants simply aren’t replacing them fast enough to keep pace with the vagaries of an unstable climate, and the region’s existing power infrastructure is woefully vulnerable to wildfires (which threaten transmission lines), drought (which saps once-abundant hydropower resources) and heat waves (which play havoc with demand).”

A recent study found that the chance of heat-related power failures in major American cities has jumped by 60% since 2015, threatening what the lead author calls “the deadliest climate-related event we can imagine.” Minority communities stand to be disproportionately affected and the most in danger.

There is a solution to all this. The key is to bring all parts of the energy sector together with government leaders to develop ways to balance the need for power with the need to decarbonize. When this is done right, investing in oil and gas does not have to mean giving up on climate goals.

Clean energy drives profits

Despite stereotypes, oil and gas leaders support the move to diversify their fossil portfolios. Their companies are among the largest investors in renewable energy. A survey by EY found that oil executives believe decarbonization is one of the most important factors in their companies’ business growth.

Investments in these companies can be aimed at not only advancing green technologies, but also developing safer and more efficient ways to provide lower carbon solutions in the interim as the world moves away from fossil fuels.

Energy companies are putting more and more focus on ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues. Investors are helping push the industry in a more positive direction. And that includes one of the most important steps the sector needs to take: developing and reskilling a new workforce.

Diversity breeds solutions

In order to transition to a clean energy era while also providing necessary power, energy companies need to reskill the workforce and attract new recruits. They need more diversity, with people of different backgrounds offering ideas and innovations. For far too long, energy companies have failed to reach out to young people, people of color and other underrepresented populations. So some of the sharpest talent have brought their innovations to Silicon Valley instead.

Imagine if that same creativity and engineering knowhow were brought to energy. Who knows what dramatic changes and discoveries could “disrupt” our existing energy systems and transform them for the better?

It takes investment to reach out to people all over the country and educate them about job opportunities in the energy sector. Traditional companies with the largest financial resources can help lead the way by forming venture arms to invest in new technologies, creating more opportunities for people excited about tech. Ultimately, the hearts and minds of the workforce are the most important natural resource the sector has to bring about a new energy future.

What Texans know

I was among the many in Houston who lost my home and business to Hurricane Harvey, which experts link to climate change. Much of Texas also lost power this past February when the energy infrastructure failed. While the state reported 151 deaths, a BuzzFeed review found the toll was likely several times that. And now, already, energy leaders are asking Texans to limit our energy use as temperatures rise heading into the summer.

After a career as an executive at two oil giants, I left to launch my own business, a platform for cooperation across all forms of energy aimed at attracting a diverse workforce and reskilling it for the $50 trillion transition ahead of us.

As I said in a recent meeting with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, for far too long the energy sector has been fragmented. It’s time to come together. The need is clear, and the opportunities -- including financially -- are tremendous.

-Katie Mehnert is CEO of Ally Energy, a member of the Greentown “Climatetech” incubator. She is ambassador to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Equity in Energy Initiative, and author of Grow with the Flow.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.