guest column

Houston expert: Where is tech going? And can the energy industry keep up?

Scott Nyquist on the future of technology and how they affect the energy industry. Photo via Getty Images

When smart people come together to consider the future, it’s worth listening to them.

Not long ago, McKinsey brought together more than 60 experts, and asked them to name the most important technology trends for business. They started from the premise that the next 10 years will see more technological progress than in the previous 100 years—and that this will up-end companies and industries everywhere.

“We believe the technology disruption over the next few years will be equal to the industrial revolution,” says Nicolaus Henke, a McKinsey alum who participated in this Tech Trends Index, which will be updated annually.

Here are some of the specific predictions. More than three-quarters of enterprise-generated data will be processed by edge or cloud computing by 2025. Ten percent of global GDP could be associated with blockchain by 2027. Renewables will produce 75 percent of global energy by 2050. 5G could reach 80 percent of the world’s population by 2030.

Time will tell if any or all of these are right; personally, I think renewables will have to wait a little longer for that kind of dominance. But by and large, I found the list, and the underlying thinking, compelling. And given my background in oil-and-gas, I thought it was striking that parts of the energy industry are working on just about every single one of them. Here is the list:

  • Next-level process automation and visualization.
  • Future of connectivity.
  • Distributed infrastructure.
  • Next-generation computing.
  • Applied artificial intelligence (AI).
  • Future of programming.
  • Trust architecture.
  • Bio revolution.
  • Next-generation materials.
  • Future of clean technologies.

Specifically, the first half-dozen items are all connected to digitization, and while the energy industry may not be at the cutting edge of development, it has a long track record of integrating these technologies and safely deploying them in order to deliver low-cost and reliable supply.

For example, the oil and gas industry has used AI for years to evaluate reservoirs and to plan drilling—one of many improvements over the traditional “one rock, two geologists, three opinions" way of doing things. And advanced materials, such as composites, engineered polymers, and low-density/high-strength metals and alloys are commonly used to lower costs and improve performance, for example in deep water oil and gas production and rotating equipment. As for connectivity, there is no shortage of commitment, but I think it is fair to say that the full potential has not been tapped.

McKinsey has estimated that making use of advanced connectivity alone—to optimize drilling and production, as well as to improve maintenance and field operations—could translate into $250 billion in value by 2030. That is something that the industry could really use, given recent price fluctuations. Taken as a whole, while the industry is nowhere near completing a full digital transformation, it is certainly well on its way.

As for the item most clearly connected to the industry — No. 10, clean technologies — at first glance, this might seem like bad news for traditional energy players. Not so fast. There are clear opportunities in areas such as clean coal, carbon capture, and energy storage. Moreover, other kinds of clean technologies can help the industry decarbonize its operations—something that will become more important as carbon regulation gets more stringent.

As I see it, then, while parts of the industry may seem old-school, it is actually heavily engaged in almost everything on the list. That should come as no surprise. From the first time oil was pumped in Pennsylvania in 1859, it has innovated and adapted to integrate technologies that improved productivity, safety, and environmental performance. In fact, it could it could even be said that the sector is part of what is often known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution—the convergence and interaction of physical, digital, and biological technologies.

I, and many others in the industry, believe that the ongoing energy transition will likely suppress demand for fossil fuels in the long term. But while the items on the Tech Trends Index, together and separately, will be disruptive, requiring big changes in business models and day-to-day operations, they could also help the industry to adapt.

———

Scott Nyquist is a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company and vice chairman, Houston Energy Transition Initiative of the Greater Houston Partnership. The views expressed herein are Nyquist's own and not those of McKinsey & Company or of the Greater Houston Partnership. This article originally ran on LinkedIn on October 4, 2021.

Trending News

A View From HETI

Shareholders of the electric vehicle and solar panel company are voting on the package, with the results to be tabulated at Tesla's June 13 annual meeting. Photo via cdn.britannica.com

A second shareholder advisory firm has come out against reinstating a pay package for Tesla CEO Elon Musk that was voided earlier this year by a Delaware judge.

ISS late Thursday joined Glass Lewis in recommending against the package, recently valued by the company at $44.9 billion but in January had a value of about $56 billion.

Shareholders of the electric vehicle and solar panel company are voting on the package, with the results to be tabulated at Tesla's June 13 annual meeting.

ISS said in its recommendations on Tesla's proxy voting items that Musk's stock-based package was outsized when it was approved by shareholders in 2018, and it failed to accomplish board objectives voiced at that time.

The firm said that Tesla met the pay package’s performance objectives, and it recognized the company's substantial growth in size and profitability. But concerns about Musk spending too much time on other ventures that were raised in 2018 and since then have not been sufficiently addressed, ISS said.

“The grant, in many ways, failed to achieve the board’s other original objectives of focusing CEO Musk on the interests of Tesla shareholders, as opposed to other business endeavors, and aligning his financial interests more closely with those of Tesla stockholders,” ISS wrote.

Also, future concerns remain unaddressed, including a lack of clarity on Musk's future compensation and the potential for his pay to significantly dilute shareholder value, ISS wrote.

Musk plays big roles in his other ventures including SpaceX, Neuralink and the Boring Company. Last year he bought social media platform X and formed an artificial intelligence unit called xAI.

Last week the other prominent proxy advisory firm, Glass Lewis, also recommended against reinstating Musk's 2018 compensation package. The firm said the package would dilute shareholders' value by about 8.7%. The rationale for the package “does not in our view adequately consider dilution and its long-lasting effects on disinterested shareholders,” Glass Lewis wrote.

But in a proxy filing, Tesla said that Glass Lewis failed to consider that the 2018 award incentivized Musk to create over $735 billion in value for shareholders in the six years since it was approved.

“Tesla is one of the most successful enterprises of our time,” the filing said. “We have revolutionized the automotive market and become the first vertically integrated sustainable energy company."

Tesla is struggling with falling global sales, slowing electric vehicle demand, an aging model lineup and a stock price that has tumbled about 30% this year.

Tesla asked shareholders to restore Musk's pay package after it was rejected by a Delaware judge this year. At the time, it also asked to shift the company’s legal corporate home to Texas.

Glass Lewis recommended against moving the legal corporate home to Texas, but ISS said it favored the move.

California’s public employee retirement system, which holds a stake in Tesla, said it has not made a final decision on how it will vote on Musk’s pay. But CEO Marcie Frost told CNBC that as of Wednesday, the system would not vote in favor. CalPERS, which opposed the package in 2018, said it will discuss the matter with Tesla “in the coming days.”

In January, Delaware Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick ruled that Musk is not entitled to the landmark stock compensation that was to be granted over 10 years.

Ruling on a lawsuit from a shareholder, she voided the pay package, saying that Musk essentially controlled the board, making the process of enacting the compensation unfair to stakeholders. “Musk had extensive ties with the persons tasked with negotiating on Tesla’s behalf,” she wrote in her ruling.

In a letter to shareholders released in a regulatory filing last month, Tesla Chairwoman Robyn Denholm said that Musk has delivered on the growth it was looking for at the automaker, with Tesla meeting all of the stock value and operational targets in the 2018 package. Shares at the time were up 571% since the pay package began.

“Because the Delaware Court second-guessed your decision, Elon has not been paid for any of his work for Tesla for the past six years that has helped to generate significant growth and stockholder value,” Denholm wrote. “That strikes us — and the many stockholders from whom we already have heard — as fundamentally unfair, and inconsistent with the will of the stockholders who voted for it.”

Tesla posted record deliveries of more than 1.8 million electric vehicles worldwide in 2023, but the value of its shares has eroded quickly this year as EV sales soften.

The company said it delivered 386,810 vehicles from January through March, nearly 9% fewer than it sold in the same period last year. Future growth is in doubt and it may be a challenge to get shareholders to back a fat pay package in an environment where competition has increased worldwide.

Starting last year, Tesla has cut prices as much as $20,000 on some models. The price cuts caused used electric vehicle values to drop and clipped Tesla’s profit margins.

In April, Tesla said that it was letting about 10% of its workers go, about 14,000 people.

Trending News