Ben Vannier | Partner, Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

The Zenergy Podcast interviews global climate leaders with prior guests, including the founders of some of the world's largest renewable energy and electric vehicle companies including founders of SoftBank Energy, Azure Power, Ola Electric, and SunEdison. These conversations share industry developments, highlight clean tech investment opportunities, and shed light on how young professionals can increase their chances of employment in this fastly growing sector. We also discuss the energy transition across key emerging markets like India, and explore partnership opportunities for US companies.

00:02 Introduction
Are you looking to become a leader in clean energy and an expert in clean tech? Do you hope to get noticed in the crowd as you pursue a career in this fastly growing industry, you are in the right place. Joining Karan Takhar as he invites Clean energy leaders to share industry development, highlight clean tech investment opportunities and shed light on how you can increase your chances of employment in this high-growth sector. We will also discuss the energy transition across key emerging markets like India and explore partnership opportunities for the US private and public sectors. After all, this is the zenergy podcast.

00:51 Karan Takhar
Thank you so much, Mr.Vannier, for taking the time. I've really been looking forward to speaking with you and am personally inspired by the work you are doing and would love to start with learning a little bit about your career journey and talking about what inspired your interest In the energy sector.

01:13 Ben Vannier 
Sure, happy to talk about that look. I started my career about 20 years ago, back in France. In energy back then, you know, early to mid-2000s, if you were interested in, we don't call it decarbonization back then, but this is kind of the idea of it. And you're in France pretty naturally you end up in the nuclear industry, that's what I wanted to do that's what I did for a number of years and you know, I really was quite passionate about the topic and spent some time in nuclear, spent some time in offshore wind as well and looking at how we could actually bring offshore wind to the US, probably a little bit ahead of its game to be honest, but fascinating topics and I really have a I'm always interested to have a passion for energy, in particular on the power side, it's probably more of my interest, but the idea that you're doing something that helps concretely power the rest of the economy and of our activities and daily lives I find that to be extremely exciting and fascinating the other thing is, you know, I'm just everything I just described as it's a sector that really matters to the economy and so, therefore, it feels like it's worthwhile your time the other aspect Is there is really a lot that's going on and I find that there's a lot that's been going on for a long time really, an acceleration around you know climate sustainability, decarbonization, etcetera. That is really changing things quite dramatically, and so the fact that it is important moving requires a lot of innovation, very big problems to solve, I think, is really what excites me.

02:59 Karan Takhar
To get a little more context, could you talk a bit about how that opportunity to get involved in the energy sector at first came about, given that so many people listening to this are young in their careers and are currently exploring different avenues to ultimately enter the energy sector, so we'd love to hear about what inspired your interest also how that specific opportunity came about?

03:29 Ben Vannier
The opportunity itself, it was pretty random, to be honest I was in school and engineering school I pretty randomly took a class on nuclear engineering I thought it was absolutely fascinating my professor was this fantastic, fascinating guy I was really going to those classes like you would go to a conference about, you know a topic that you're really interested in, and it really sparked my interest talk to the professor who we got along quite well as it turned out, he was one of them probably most senior folks in the nuclear industry in France and as we were discussing, you know, he helped me figure out the best landing spot for me and put me in touch with folks and it really never felt like I was taking interviews or anything It was really just meeting people and hearing the fascinating things they were doing and it made me think, you know, hey, I want to be a part of that so it was a very natural process, which is probably the best way that can happen given everything that's happening in the industry now the amount of investment that is going towards it I think probably not too hard to enter the industry and the challenge for folks starting their careers Now I'm pretty sure is more about where they want to go, rather than trying to find the landing spot that's kind of what I'm seeing around me.

04:54 Karan Takhar 
And is there any particular advice you would give a young professional who is interested in entering the energy sector?

05:03 Ben Vannier 
I think there's a lot of different pathways to get into it for me it was coming in through the engineering angle I wanted to I mentioned that I wanted to work in decarbonization decarbonized energy, so I was specifically looking nuclear and I never looked at other types of energy So for example, oil and gas wasn't where my passion was, but I was I wanted to be in a position where I could have a real managerial experience early on, and so that was a good match here to really be able to use some of my engineering background get access to managerial role early and then you know from there as I went to Business School BCG that gave me the opportunity to see things at a more strategic level, which was really what I was I was really looking for and that was really sort of my path I am very happy about the path I felt like I was very lucky and it worked I think there are many different ways you know, I you can definitely go into this sector through the entrepreneurial route joining some of the large players that are out there through the investment angle through the consulting angle there's a such a need for people such a need for the problems there or need to be solved out there the amount of investment that's happening in this industry as such, you know we need people across the board so it's pretty obvious, and I'm not sure it's the most insightful comment that you'll ever get on that, but it's really there's enough of a need everywhere that you really should follow your passion at least that's kind of what I did when I did it when I joined the industry and it was never boring as a result.

06:46 Karan Takhar
Thank you for expanding on that and now transitioning to your work at BCG, which from my research, seems to be making a lot of investment in growing its climate work, for example, recently acquiring consequences and also becoming the key partner at COP and I did read online that client is one of the two key pillars for BCC's future growth strategy along with I would love to hear what is inspiring this investment into the.

07:25 Ben Vannier
Climate verticals So you're right, we have these two big investment areas or moon shots as we call them climate sustainability and AI you know it's been in fact something that we've been discussing and thinking about for quite some time rich, lesser or previous CEO's now the chair of BCG got interested in the topic maybe half a dozen years ago and started having a lot of discussions internally a few folks came to him, it was really a couple of people saying, hey, we have a passion for this and we really think that this is going to become a an increasingly important topic and that the world is going to need to solve and going to need some help from BCG, among others, to resolve around climate and sustainability and this is kind of what it could look like and I think the history is, well, you know the response was well, why only this you know we should be even more ambitious, and it was a realization of this is a massive issue the answer is not obvious at all, far from it, it's going to be quite complex and it is something that we, as an organization should be doing and putting our energy against and as a result, it kind of continued from there were a lot of discussions that were had around the topic around different aspects of it, and it became, you know, one of those two moonshots we see clearly a lot of passion from our teams you know our our new recruits into the topic, it's of course, in my practice where I work It is, you know, front and Center for all the executives I work with and all my clients. What's interesting I find is to see how it is really now over the past probably 24 months maybe in the US, it has become really a big topic for many organizations beyond the energy the world and so now you know, I find the energy clients is a little bit in the lead here on this topic because obviously it's such an important piece for them, but it's sort of leading the way just to an extent for what other industries are going to be able to do and should do and will do and need to do and that's where it starts becoming something a theme that is big enough that it goes across not just energy but industrial goods and you know healthcare and travel and et cetera and so it deserves to be its own area of focus if you will now it's not working independently from everyone else It's really working hand in hand collaboratively and bringing these types of solutions just like you know, you have a strategy or you have organizational topics or operational topics that go across industries, right It is now become such a big thing that I think it deserves to be its own practice area and in the using the DCG lingo you know at the end of the day when I look at it in energy there's, as I mentioned, a lot of overlap between energy and kind of in sustainability you know in the energy space really purpose is pointed as you know, mining the way to net zero and bond, it's very representative of what will need to be done you know it's not just going to net zero, it's going to have to be going even beyond that is going to have to be something that we do within the energy space but also outside in those other industries, right so you put it all together it really is one of the big areas that we are focusing we are investing in we're spending a lot of time and energy and we'll continue to do and so supporting COP 26 27 and a lot of the other things that we do falls very squarely into that It's the right thing for all of us to be spending some time on and to use the fantastic people that we have internally to put their brains and thinking against.

11:16 Karan Takhar
For listeners who may not be super familiar with what consulting specifically in the energy and climate field would look like, could you provide some examples of projects that energy and climate consultants would get to work on?

11:32 Ben Vannier
Yeah, absolutely happy to, so I'll take some examples of work that I have done myself in this space so if you focus more on on the climate angle, you know one aspect is decarbonization strategies one of my clients we helped them, they had a trajectory investments that they were looking to do in the renewable space, but working with them we helped them build something that was a much much-accelerated pace and path towards decarbonization with early retirements of some coal plants or actually all of their coal plants earlier than anything they were planning to do a net zero (0) commitment and then turning this into a reality of what their strategy Is looking like and the strategic plans over the next you know, several years how are they going to be investing and putting resources, prioritizing capital, etcetera so that's an example here of just starting with you know a bit of a vision turning this into a strategy and all the analysis that supports it to see how this will create value and the kind of path in terms of carbon reduction and that it puts them on and then turning it into the reality of an actual executable plan with clear owners internally, etcetera there's another angle you know, some recent work that I've done with some of my colleagues, which is more related to decarbonization and I was talking about early retirements of some coal plants there's behind it of course, there's the climate aspect and the emissions aspect, but there's also some aspects of course around reliability, and you want to make sure that you're not negatively impacting the reliability of power going back to what I was mentioning of just, you know at the end of the day when you're generating power, this is really enabling the rest of society to function so you need that reliability, but there's also, you know, an aspect around affordability and all the social impacts as well So, one piece of work we did with the client was really to think about how do you translate all this into you want to make it a just energy transition so that you are we're doing this decarbonization going on this energy transition path, but you're also doing it in a way where it's going to create some opportunities for populations you know low, medium income populations folks who are going to be potentially negatively impacted in terms of jobs by shutdowns of those coal plants for example, and so what do you do, What kind of opportunities do you create for them to be able to really benefit from all this and sort of bring them along so that it doesn't become something that local stakeholders end up opposing because of the negative impact direct impact that these types of strategies will have on them, right so it can also be something like this at the end of the day we refer to it as there's a bit of an energy trilemma here which is, you know, carbon emissions is is absolutely one angle of it there's the reliability angle, and then there's the affordability and social impacts here, right, so our work is really touching on all three of those things and trying to find the right kind of balance between them and it's not a not an easy single one-size-fits-all kind of answer.

14:51 Karan Takhar
For that, really helpful and insightful would love to get a sense of what type of clients are you seeing the most demands in terms of getting a BCG you're consulting for, like BCG, to help with reorienting towards this more sustainable orientation. Are there any particular set of clients like utility firms or generation firms, or is it more like a broader diversity?

15:18 Ben Vannier
Any I think in the energy world, it's really most people from all the ones you mentioned, so the direct players, utilities, power generators, independent power producers, gas utilities also, that's an important topic for them on the oil and gas plus side, of course, and then it and then from there it goes to all of the various OEM's and big suppliers of all those types of companies as well. But it's also very much very true for investment firms that are investing in the industry as well. You know, we've been doing a lot of work with various funds that are thinking about, you know, where they could be and should be investing in the overall value chain of climate and sustainability, so it is very true, I think there's been an acceleration as I mentioned over the past probably call it 24 months for me. What was very interesting. We were seeing a lot of this it still felt a little bit to the side or as a secondary consideration, definitely not in the top, you know, one, two, or three or so for quite some time, and then you know, there are a lot of movements and things that happened and you know what you think and track rock clearly. Put this probably elevated this on people's agenda, but when you started seeing what the signs I started seeing were when tangibly private equity firms, for example, or large asset managers. You know, the ESG filter was actually one of the very first ones that they would do before even considering a potential opportunity. It was a real sign that folks were taking this seriously, and we're looking to ESG as a very important consideration in their investment decisions. These are all the folks who are investing. We're active here, and they all need the help of some sort, and that's where you know they come to us.

17:14 Karan Takhar
Understood, and since the passage of the IRA, Have you similarly seen like a big uptick, or has it remained relatively stable growth over the past few years?

17:25 Ben Vannier
So look at the RA's. I think I would say RA+IA. If you look at them together, have, really, it's a real step change from the support regulatory support and Government support to the industry and the decarbonization efforts. It's something we haven't seen in 20-30 forty years or so in the US, and I think it's really put the US, sort of back on the front foot and in the lead here. It is also what's important is that the magnitude of the dollars, so you know, just to put some numbers, the RA, if you look at it, funding for client and energy is about 370 billion or so. IJ has another about 100 and 1,000,000. This is a massive level of investment. The other big thing is about it is for an extended period of time for the next decade or so it creates that visibility that is very important in this industry where you really need to have that kind of visibility to go and make some of those longer-term investment decisions so it's a real step change it is I think going to drive and it's already driving a change in where the capital is going and the types of solutions that are now being considered and it'll have, I think a profound, lasting impact on the US and its energy mix and landscape, but also US and global climate energy systems also on supply chains on industries on trade as well so I think it creates a lot of opportunities domestically, for all those players I talked about and where and what opportunity they really look at and sees it creates really a strong opportunity for the US to be back in their leadership role and on many of them so all that translates into ultimately, you know some need for consulting services as well, which you always is great it's not the goal of all this you know we are more on the sort of tail end if you will of that but the issues are so big and so complex and the opportunities are so material here that it definitely translates into opportunities for demand for more consulting services for like ESG.

19:46 Karan Takhar
Given that you've so much great experience in the energy sector, I would love to hear what has most surprised you in terms of the development of the energy sector since the time you entered until now there anything, particularly, that has surprised that's you?

20:04 Ben Vannier 
There's been, in fact, there's been a lot of things that I feel like I haven't seen coming it's sort of falls to be expected, you know, I don't know if you remember Donald Rumsfeld was talking about the known unknowns, and unknowns, unknown, unknown unknowns there's a fair amount of this in the energy industry if you think about talking about nuclear for a second, but you know Fukushima happens it reshapes the future of the nuclear industry for a long time what is happening to the energy landscape in Japan you know this is sort of a real one-time event you have if you look at on the solar side when the Chinese manufacturers started really ramping up or entering and ramping up production of solar panels and we started seeing the cost of solar wells dropping you know much faster than anyone had anticipated and really kind of changing things, and then you more recently what's happening, you know the war in Ukraine and all the implications that is happening it's just it's hard to pinpoint, really there's been all of these events you know, some of which are external events that have a massive impact on how our energy systems are shaping up the challenge, but what I find also to be really fascinating is all these things are kind of happening, but at the same time you have decisions that you have to make with quite long time horizons and you know those things kind of get reshaped on a regular basis so are you in the known unknowns or unknown unknowns you know at some point when they happen so over and over again, you know you can sort of debate what kind of it is, but this is really if I try to sum it up is you know we are doing a lot of planning and planning ahead and everything, and then you know you have these types of events that happens so maybe like the surprising thing, the reminder that you get often times it's just that you really have to think in scenarios it's going to do scenario planning here because there's so much uncertainty that is really out there and and and things are changing 90 degrees, 180 degrees quite often and quite rapidly. If you look at things overall, an extended period of time in the energy industry.

22:21 Karan Takhar
As someone who's young and is pretty interested in building a career in the energy and climate space.

22:28 Ben Vannier 
When you say someone who's young, you're talking about me, right?

22:31 Karan Takhar
Yes, yes, I just love to hear. Like if you were in my shoes or someone like myself's shoes, do you feel like it is pretty certain or there is a high probability that the energy sector is moving towards a more renewable or climate-friendly setup over time, or do you feel like that's not necessarily given right now and there is still like so much work that needs to be done just trying to get a sense of whether that inflection point has been reached, where it's like pretty clear that that is the direction things are headed or do you feel as if there's still a lot of uncertainty in terms of how things are developing?

23:18 Ben Vannier 
But so I'm probably going to end up contradicting what I said just on the last question here, and it was Bill Gates has said we always overestimate the change that will happen in the next two years and we underestimate the change that will happen the next ten years so having said that, I do think that there is reasonable certainty on a number of technologies over the next, you know, 10-15-years or so. Not on everything but renewables. Yes, there's definitely been an inflection point. In fact, you know, it's kind of quite behind us. I think the RA and IJ are adding to it. You know, a variety of other factors are kind of confirming it, but we're going to be having growing winds going solar or decentralized solar. More batteries that's happening. It will happen. I think there's very little doubt that we're going to have progress on a lot of the renewables and battery technology, so that will help as well, and those things are economical and even more economical will be even more economical, I think on the renewable if I go through all the renewables or the major ones, we'll continue to have some hydro I'm not sure we're going to have tremendous additions, especially if you compared to wind and solar biogas, biomass you know we will have some, but I don't think it will be huge nuclear we'll continue, I think we'll there's a bit of a nuclear renaissance. I think most of it will probably happen if you look at material numbers globally, it'll be some of the nuclear next cells will be more on existing designs, right? So I'm not. I'm not talking about generation full or things or forward-looking on the fossil side, we'll still have some coal there's going to be a ramp down, how fast maybe there's a bit of uncertainty I think gas will continue to play a role and you know it will probably ramp down there may be some areas where it will continue to ramp up and then the rest is probably more technologies that are a little bit more sort of pilot but I think all those things I'm looking at a very macro picture when I'm saying all this right and so things like carbon capture like hydrogen will play a role, but I don't think it will be as big in terms of really installed capacity as when solar you know and batteries, right what happens after that's where there's a lot more uncertainty to be fair, in my view, and you know, that's where a lot of these things will we will see whether they pan out a lot of these pilots are they really happening are they materializing if the first sizable investments really change the picture we're going to have new battery technologies that will do 24/7 competitive renewables. More decentralization of power. More carbon capture more hydrogen. We'll see. I think this is probably in the, you know, a little bit beyond of the, you know, 10-15-year window. There's a lot that needs to happen in them, and a lot of investment that will still need to continue over the next ten years for some of those to emerge as winning technologies, if you will, and really impact things in a material way on a, you know if you look at it as a global level, so it doesn't mean that you know folks shouldn't get excited about any of those more emerging things and it's just that I don't expect those to be the big contributors to the solution you know, kind of solutions in the next 10-15-years so it means there's a ton of opportunities here, ton of things that are going to have to learn I have to work through and so that's where I go back to It creates a ton of opportunities for folks who are eager to get into the industry now and all those different technologies and many others I didn't even mention.

27:07 Karan Takhar
Thank you so much. That was amazing, and I really appreciate you taking the time and sharing the insights.

27:13 Ben Vannier
Happy To do it.

27:19 Conclusion
Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed the episode. Check out the episode description or show notes. For more information on our guest, see you next time.

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