It wasn’t the music business that came up with Spotify. And it wasn’t the hotel industry that came up with Airbnb. Anders Hegna Hærland thinks small companies could hold the key to our future.
What will our company look like in the future? What kinds of energy will we produce? The short answer is, nobody knows. But as director of innovation it’s Anders Hegna Hærland’s job to find out—and he knows the answers may be outside Equinor. That’s why we’re partnering with Techstars on a global accelerator programme for energy innovators.
Anders Hegna Hærland is Director of Innovation. He believes small innovative companies can hold the key to our future.
Like trying to predict the Internet in 1990
Technological innovation has always been one of the building blocks of Equinor—and it’s becoming ever more important, says Anders Hegna Hærland. As Director of Innovation, his job is to guide the company towards the technologies of the future. It’s no easy task.
“It's as though the company were to time-warp me back to 1990, and ask me to predict how the Internet would shape society and companies, and affect us as individuals for the next 30-40 years," he says. "The simple answer is, we just don't know."
Our company is built on innovation
Sometimes when you’re at a crossroads, it can be a good idea to glance over your shoulder. And if you do, you will see that Equinor’s entire history has been based on pioneering work. We have shaped an entire industry, and an entire sector of the Norwegian economy. On our journey from start-up to today’s multi-billion-dollar global enterprise, Equinor has become a world leader in recovering resources from beneath the seabed, using ever more pioneering and innovative technology.
“Innovation is nothing new at Equinor; we’re a company that has been driven forward by taking on new and ever tougher tasks,” he says.
How will we transform
“The the world is changing, and so is the energy industry. We need to reduce emissions and identify and adopt positions outside the traditional oil and gas industry,” he says.
“We’re trying to answer questions like—“What will Equinor look like in the future? How can we best transition from a company focused on oil and gas to being a broad energy major? And even whether there may be attractive positions for the company outside the energy industry,” he says.
Accelerating the rate of change
Behind it all is the recognition of the challenges the oil and gas industry is currently facing—the need to contribute to solving the climate challenge, significant changes in the energy market and growing competition from new energy sources.
“The rate of change in the world has never been higher. We know that access to energy is vital to the development of prosperous societies and that the demand for energy will grow going forward. At the same time, we know that emissions must be reduced,” says Hærland.
With the creation of a separate innovation unit, we’re aiming to prepare for the future before it arrives.
“Innovation and technology is what will transform us. Society around us, and the energy industry along with it, have never been changing as rapidly as they are now. This means that the rate of change in our company also has to increase,” he says.
“That doesn’t mean that we need to completely transform Equinor over the next few years, but we are a small unit that has been tasked with putting away the magnifying glass and using binoculars instead,” says Hærland.
Scanning the horizon
And those binoculars must be pointed in many different directions. They must look at the traditional part of our activities, oil and gas. And they must scan across the wider energy industry. And they must look at completely different industries.
“We must be hungry, curious and open-minded. This is more important than finding the one answer that works in the here and now. We must help the company make bold decisions when the time is right. This will certainly involve trial and error.”
That’s why we’re is investing in a number of areas and technologies where there is still a great deal of uncertainty. One example is blockchain technology—a digital technology for securing transactions without the use of third parties, perhaps best known as the technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Other examples are in the field of artificial intelligence, to find new and better ways to exploit the massive amounts of data in our possession.
“Hype and hope”
“I call myself the director of ‘hype and hope’,” says Hærland, “Hype—because in times of major change there will be a lot of trends that will not necessarily be what catches on ten to twenty years from now. However, we must also have some hope. We can’t just lean back and be left behind by evolution. Instead, we must spread our tentacles, to better understand the changes and to deduce where exciting business opportunities for the company can be found in the longer term,” he says.
There are 20,000 employees in Equinor, but there are 7 billion people in the world. So there are a lot of researchers outside Equinor whom we can learn from and collaborate with.
They wont all be winners
He’s quite certain of one thing, though: we can’t hope to accurately predict what will be all the winning technologies in 20-30 years’ time.
“It’s difficult to have a high level of confidence when you work with innovation. Precisely because the world is changing so quickly, especially driven by increasing digitisation, it is not easy to pick ‘winners’ or to know exactly in what direction the energy market is moving,” he says.
An important part of Equinor’s investment in innovation is transparency and the recognition that some of the future energy solutions will be created outside the company.
“We have around 20,000 employees at Equinor, but there are 7 billion people on Earth. We cannot rule out there are communities outside of Equinor that we should learn from and work with,” says Hegna Hærland.
In 2018, we started to collaborate with Techstars, an international network that matches contractors and start-up companies with leading actors in various industries. Techstars will be entering the energy industry now for the first time, with Equinor as its main partner.
The project entails that technology start-ups from around the world will be invited to submit their ideas for solutions to today’s and tomorrow’s energy challenges. The best ideas and companies will then be taken under our wing for a period of time for further development, by means of Techstars’ proven method.
“The theme of our first energy accelerator is ‘Energy platforms for the future’. We will be looking globally for companies that want to work together with us to solve the energy challenges of the future.”
The story continues below.