“We must recognize that there is a challenge regarding the perception of CCS, and that in order to deal with it we must have leadership and engagement, as well as investment and education,” states Australian expert regarding this activity in his country

Social scientist Peta Ashworth, in the School of Chemical Engineering of the University of Queensland, Australia, was at the FAPESP Shell Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI) for the seminar Gaining a social license for energy technology projects, on Friday, November 9. According to her, who studies the future of sustainable energy, public trust, regarding the subject of energy and related enterprises, is based on its perception of the competence and integrity of the organization in charge. Furthermore, it must be made very clear who will be benefited by the project, which must always be conducted with all transparency.

“Generally speaking, when we talk about energy, people want it, above all, to be accessible; then reliable; and, finally, that it have a low carbon footprint. Those who are impacted by an energy, or similar, project especially want to know if they can have something to say about the process and if anyone will listen to them. In this sense, people tend to feel the same way worldwide.”

According to her, about 85% of Australia’s energy comes from fossil fuels, and about 70% of the population has a real concern regarding emissions and climate policies. She says that one of the challenges of transitioning to cleaner fuels is that it is good for the world, but the risks and impacts on enterprises are local. “It is difficult to find this balance. A social operating license is not a formal license; it is not granted by the government or any other institution. It must be earned.”

Ms. Ashworth also stated that the probability of having a social license will depend upon the degree of concordance between the individual expectations of the public, with regard to corporate behavior and the true behavior of companies. And she gave one example: the non-conventional natural gas industry in Australia does not have a social operating license in the cities, but rather in some communities in which this industry is active and is developed, it exists.

“What happened, in some communities is that fracking raised the water table, thus allowing access to water via wells that were not so deep. The communities frequently test the water, in conjunction with the companies, to know if everything continues to be in order. All of this is highly transparent. However, urban dwellers have a big influence on our politicians, because they have a stronger voice than those of the communities.”

Ms. Ashworth says it is easy to know when an operation has no social operating license. “Complaints are raised in the neighborhood, boycotts, community protests. A social license is a complex thing that is earned over time and develops through a relationship with the community, involving respect and trust among the parties. And it is something that can easily be lost, when there is a misstep on the part of the company.”

As she sees it, the key question for any community affected by large projects – and this includes new technologies for generating power, as well as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects, and others – is how do they affect the means of subsistence and lifestyle of people? “Understanding this is the key to entrepreneurs knowing what they should do to preserve the means of subsistence and the lifestyle of the communities in which they well be involved.”

CCS – The research scientist presented data from a recent comparative survey carried out by her and her staff, among colleagues of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, of the knowledge level of the population, in general, regarding new technologies connected with energy and their financing, in both countries (China and Australia). “The Chinese tend to assess their knowledge of energy technologies more positively than do the Australians. But both countries no very little about biomass and CCS.”

Regarding financing, among the 12 different energy technologies listed in the survey, CCS was ranked in 8th place, in terms of a method worthy of financing, in Australia (ahead of coal, biomass, nuclear energy, and coal gas), and in 10th place in China (ahead of only coal and coal gas).

In Australia, the perception that the advantages of CCS as an option for reducing carbon emissions surpass their possible risks is held by less than half the population (45%). In China, this figure rises to 55.8%. However, 66.9% of Australians think that the advantages of renewable energy sources as an option for reducing carbon emissions surpass their possible risks, and in China, 74.6% hold this view.

“We must realize that the perception of CCS is a big challenge, and that to deal with it we need leadership and engagement. We also need to invest and educate.”

After her presentation, Ms. Ashworth answered questions from the participants, which included Professor Júlio Meneghini, Scientific Director of the RCGI, Professors Suani Coelho and Dominique Mouette, Coordinators of the RCGI’s Projects 27 and 25, respectively, and Karen Mascarenhas, the Centre’s Director of Human Resources and Leadership Management. Also in attendance were Oscar Serrate, Drielli Peyerl, and Nathalia Weber, together with Karen and others, are dedicated to studying a social operating license for CCS projects in Brazil. This group gave rise to the initiative for bringing in the Australian expert to the RCGI. Researchers from other projects of the Centre were also present.