An Exclusive Interview with Ajay Singh

Q: You will be completing your tenure at JAPEX shortly. An ex-Shell, non-Japanese senior executive at the heart of a Japanese company is rare. What are your reflections?

A: It was indeed a first. What’s more, I came in for a 4-year term but stayed on for over 6. The unusual nature of the role appealed to me, and in Chairman Watanabe I found a person with ambition for JAPEX and the ability to take bold decisions. I was fortunate to have the freedom to shape my role to cover a wide canvas, from investment decisions to improving effectiveness of project development, to changes in strategy to organizational reform. In the process I have learnt a great deal about this country and its corporate culture.

Q: What has been the most significant change you were able to bring about?

A: We were able to turn around the LNG business of the company. We exited the Pacific North West LNG project development - where our off-take commitment became unworkable after the oil price crash 5 years ago - and switched to an open market model to meet our requirements. Today we have perhaps one of the lowest-risk and most profitable LNG portfolios in Japan, able to maximize our market advantage. That sort of course change is difficult anywhere, but especially so for a minority Japanese partner with a ‘project’ heritage, firmly locked into a major project commitment. It is a tribute to the resilience of the company.

Q: We understand you are now into an exciting next-generation renewable energy venture of your own?

A: Yes, I have been looking into green hydrogen for some time. The dramatic fall in renewable power costs in some parts of the world promises to unlock large-scale latent demand for hydrogen. I am sufficiently convinced of its potential to have formed a venture last year, through which we are evaluating opportunities jointly with potential customer-partners. It is not yet commercially viable, but conditions to make it so are gradually coming into being.

Q: Is green hydrogen likely to compete with LNG? How should the industry look at it?

A: It will complement LNG, not compete with it. Demand is growing, and I continue to believe in the future of the LNG industry - I anticipate it will continue to be my personal mainstay for now! But the industry needs pathways to transition if it is to retain the social license to operate. There is no way we can continue to grow at 4% per year when the climate change goal is to halve hydrocarbon consumption in just the next 30 years. A lot of the environmental debate is rather polarized, but the gas industry has the skills and the wherewithal needed to deliver hydrogen.

Ajay Singh, Special Advisor to Chairman & President, JAPEX & Founder and Director, Global Hydrogen Energy Development will be speaking at the Japan LNG & Gas Virtual Summit, 8-9 July 2020.

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