A study of 3600 major companies published this year by Accenture, a management consulting company, examined the exposure of major industrial sectors to disruption. It found that the energy sector is the most vulnerable, followed by banking and utilities. The report reiterates that disruption can take different forms and varies from industry to industry, and even among companies within the same industry. For some corporations, disruptive forces pose an existential threat, while, at the same time, they create attractive new possibilities for others.
The main source of disruption in the energy industry are new technologies. This is unsurprising. What is, however, rather unexpected is that these new, disruptive technologies are also helping preserve, and in some cases even reinforce, traditional strategies and business models in the fossil fuel sector. These clashing forces of disruption and continuity are influencing the direction and speed of what, so far, has been an orderly, albeit slow-moving, global transition from a high carbon to a low carbon economy. If this transition is not speeded up Mother Nature will become the most important source of disruption in the energy industry and, arguably, in all industries.
It is tempting to evaluate disruption and continuity on the basis of their short to medium term economic or technological impact rather than in terms of the true end-game, which is their impact on the future of the industry and ultimately of our planet. From this perspective, innovations that disrupt the fossil-fuel industry and promote the use of new, cleaner sources of energy appear to be headed in the right direction. There is abundant proof that such a process has already been initiated and appears to be irreversible, but the central question remains: will this change take place in time to prevent a major global upheaval?