Andrés Gluski: How Do We Speed Up the Transition to Renewable Energy?
‘Perspectives’ is a joint project of The Beautiful Truth and Leaders on Purpose. During the 5th annual Leaders on Purpose CEO Summit this year, The Beautiful Truth conducted interviews with influential corporate leaders and thought leaders. The goal was to gain insight into their perspectives on purposeful business and answer the question: what actions should our businesses take in the current historical context?
Since 2011, Andrés Gluski has been the President and CEO of AES Corporation, a Fortune 500 global energy company that delivers greener, smarter energy solutions. Its purpose is to accelerate the future of energy with a focus on the renewable transition.
Gluski is lauded for his long-term and forward-thinking approach to energy, especially in the company’s ambitious roadmap to renewables. AES achieved its 2020 coal-reduction target by reducing use from 60% to less than 30% and they plan to continue phasing out the fossil fuel.
With over 20 years experience at the company, Gluski discusses the perspectives we need for a faster renewables transition and what might be hindering this mission.
“Energy doesn’t lend itself to one line, simple solutions.”
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
How are AES Corporation working towards a future of renewable energy?
We’re thinking in two capacities when it comes to a green future for energy: short term and long term. This means developing renewable-energy solutions that meet customers’ needs both now and in 15 years. We are also leaders in devising new technologies that support the transition to renewables, such as using lithium ion batteries to store renewable energy and developing hurricane-resistant solar projects. The future of energy is renewables, butwe also can’t forget about our energy needs today.
What barriers are in place in the transition towards renewables, and what solutions are AES providing?
Energy doesn’t lend itself to one-line, simple solutions. It’s about finding multiple solutions to the problems we’re currently facing. Today, for example, renewables are often the cheapest source of energy – it’s less expensive to produce wind or solar than fossil fuels. However, they don’t provide enough at capacity; the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day. That’s the real challenge: how do we combine energy with capacity?
That’s why AES began using very large lithium ion batteries to store renewable power and inject it into the grid when needed. But they won’t work over a whole season – that’s why we’re now moving into green hydrogen.
What are the current perspectives around transitioning to renewables?
We hear extremes from both sides of the conversation. On one hand, some doubt the efficacy of current renewable sources, claiming that they are causing energy problems rather than solving them. For example, there are those who attribute Europe’s energy crisis to the prioritisation of renewables. This is a non-sequitur; the more renewables we have, the less we need fossil fuels, which is a necessity for the future of energy. But it is a problem of capacity, as I mentioned.
“People have to realise the scale of the challenge that we’re facing; we can’t do this overnight. It takes consistency.”
Others insist that we have the capability to transition completely tomorrow. In reality, we aren’t ready to achieve that yet – we simply don’t have access to enough materials. Most renewables only run a third of the time; if we were to replace 1000 megawatts of coal, we would have to use 3000 megawatts of renewables. People have to realise the scale of the challenge that we’re facing; we can’t do this overnight. It takes consistency.
As a business, how do you make the transition to renewables a priority?
This comes down to purpose. We’ve always been very values-driven, but once we decided that our purpose was to accelerate the future of energy, we finally felt like we could align towards a common goal.
Envisioning a renewable future for global energy becomes crucial in every decision we make, from recruiting and maintaining the best talent to prioritising our investments.
We’re living in a volatile world; it’s easy to get distracted by things like changeable commodity prices or a shortage of solar panels. But this wouldn’t be true to our purpose – we can’t allow ourselves to lose sight of our end goal. We collectively have to realise the scale of the climate change challenge that we’re facing and channel this into everything we do.
“We’re living in a volatile world; it’s easy to get distracted by things like changeable commodity prices or a shortage of solar panels. But this wouldn’t be true to our purpose – we can’t allow ourselves to lose sight of our end goal.”
How can we accelerate the transition to renewables?
We have to all be convinced of the urgency. We’re experiencing a lot of this already; every week we’re seeing ‘one in a 100-year floods’ or ‘one in a 1000-year droughts’. The evidence is overwhelming. We also don’t know the pace of climate change. We use models but it might not be as linear as predicted, so we need to be urgent about it.
There are also a lot of one-line slogans out there which just really aren’t true, such as ‘we have the ability to transition today’. We have a responsibility to help educate people on what we need to effectively transition to renewable energy, so that the world is on the same page.
Once we have that, we need to prioritise and collaborate. If climate change is the priority, then governments and companies need to align on that. Sometimes, that might mean collaborating with competitors; we’re open source and we share a lot of our new technologies with others in the industry. We live in a world of specialisation and information silos. As a planet, we need to communicate more transparently – businesses and government – to get everybody involved in this transition.