Energy transition and the role of corporate ventures
Published on 3 December 2020
Part of our Visiting Speaker Series
There could not be any better way of signing off the Visiting Speaker Series for this semester than having an investment expert of renowned reputation, in the person of Dr Xin Ma, present to us the energy transition story from a corporate venturing perspective.
A product of the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy (CEPMLP), Dr Xin Ma holds a Bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems from Beijing University of Science and Technology, Master’s degree in Management from the University of Petroleum, China and a PhD in Petroleum Economics from the University of Dundee. In 2009, she joined Total Group where she is now the Managing Director, Asia Platform, Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures (TCNV), the venture capital arm of Total Group (Total). Her role involves leading the investment activities in Asia for TCNV in the fields of energy, mobility, and sustainability/circular economy.
She commenced her presentation by providing some insights on the workings of Total. Of notable mention was Total’s ambition to achieve a net zero status by at least 2050 –a vision that is anchored on three key targets: natural gas usage for cleaner energy production, utilisation of low carbon electricity and provision of low carbon solutions.
Dr Ma highlighted 5 trends that are the drivers of energy transition, including, electrification, decarbonisation, decentralisation, digitalisation, and storage/battery. Without doubt, the increasing usage and running of technological utilities on electric power increases the need for not just electricity but a cleaner one. In the same vain, the fast growth of renewable energy encourages decarbonisation, whilst decentralisation is enabled with the common usage/sharing of utilities such as micro grid, home solar systems, solar for commercial and industrial sectors (solar for C & I), etc. Digitalisation on its part, emerges from the need for digital tools such as IoT, AI, machine learning, etc., to meet the needs of the increasingly decentralised eco-system, even as concerns about storage/battery are being addressed with increased battery storage capacity initiatives coming on board, such as solid state battery, battery management system, battery services, etc.
In response to these trends, Dr Ma stated that Total, as part of its commitment to a better energy future, has incorporated all the 5 trends in its energy transition policy. Hence, acting through the TCNV, Total is disposed to investing in start-ups that operate within the scope of the said trends, under a corporate venture financing arrangement. So far, TCNV, she noted, has made investments in smart grid, renewables, energy storage/battery technology, energy access, mobility services e.g. ride hailing and sharing, digital services for shared and connecting mobilities, alternative sources of energy, like biofuels, bio plastic and hydrogen, etc. Furthermore, as part of its investment activities, TCNV ensures that continuous support is given to these start-ups by Total and Total in return, extracts ideas from the start-ups, covering various emerging technologies, which ideas are functional in the creation of a low carbon future.
The Q&A session was very illuminating, covering the nature of investment at Total, shareholders enthusiasm about the new world and management of the venture capital arm, to name a few key points. Dr Ma answered all questions in great depth and likewise set the pace for a smooth exchange of ideas between her and the audience.
Having done justice to all the questions asked by the participants, Dr Ma ended her presentation with a convincing conclusion that corporate ventures have enormous roles to play in the energy transition drive. As such, it was the resolution of the participants that energy transition and its attendant concepts must be implemented alongside actual business, investments, and profits to keep the markets bubbling during the transition phase.
We thank Dr Ma, and all participants for attending the session and making interesting contributions, even as we thank Dr Macatangay for leading the discussion.