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5Q PropTech Interview - Jeffrey Beyer, Managing Director at Zest Associates

January 11, 2023

You have a dynamic background across climate advocacy and environmental economics. Can you describe what has brought you to where you are today?

In 2020, I founded Zest Associates in the UAE to develop sustainability solutions for governments, consultancies and private companies looking to thrive in the low-carbon economy. Zest specializes in connecting investors and CleanTech companies and helping public and private sector entities develop strategies and initiatives to take advantage of the opportunities of the low-carbon transition.

This interest started nearly 20 years ago when I was heavily involved in international development and overseas volunteering in Africa. I stayed connected with many people from the village where I worked in Ghana. Sadly, the village – and much of West Africa – experienced massive drought followed by devastating floods right after I left. This meant that nearly everyone I knew had to rely on UN food aid to survive. I quickly recognized that climate change underpinned human development. Without drastic action, climate change was going to be a huge threat to those trying to work their way out of poverty and to the rest of the world. From then on, I devoted my attention to climate change.

The next few years saw me attend my first UN Climate Conference (COP 13 in Bali), study an MSc in Environmental Change and Management at Oxford University, and start work as a sustainability consultant. From there, I started three different businesses all focused on sustainability and clean tech helped establish a national renewable energy Centre of Excellence, a clean tech venture capital fund and more.

Jeffrey Beyer, could you explain the importance of the intersection of different disciplines in relation to bringing about durable responses to climate change?

Intersectionality is pivotal in addressing sustainability issues. Decisions made in one sector may create unintended consequences in another. It is important to have a broad understanding at both the sector level (buildings, transport, agriculture etc.) and the disciplinary level (policy, economics, law etc.) to create effective and durable solutions. Environmental change and management are very interdisciplinary, so to be an effective change agent, it is important to have an understanding across many different areas.

You have significant experience creating sustainability strategies for both government bodies and the private sector. How can the public and private sectors work together to scale innovative climate technologies?

The role of government is to create an enabling environment that encourages the private sector to develop and invest in sustainable solutions. The private sector’s role is to commercialize innovative products and business models that enable decarbonization. The public and private sectors have to work together, alongside investors and researchers, to make sure the sustainable choice is the best choice from all angles – economic, operational, environmental, and social.

I like working in sustainability strategy because it’s both academic and applied. You have to apply the right theory to trigger incentives and motivations while being very practical to make things work in the real world. Finding those trigger points and then crafting an initiative around them is where the magic happens.

For example, I helped to establish a National Centre of Excellence for Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) in the UK, called the ORE Catapult. I defined the structure and organizational strategy for the Catapult following a merger with a national test center. This involved defining technology development roadmaps and cost reduction pathways and figuring out the right government incentives and initiatives to accelerate the industry. This led to dramatically lower costs, large-scale deployment, and the development of a local supply chain that added lots of benefits to the UK economy. Offshore wind is now a key driver in decarbonizing the UK’s electricity sector.

Jeffrey Beyer, in 2023, the UAE will host the COP28 international climate conference. Ahead of this, what steps can the GCC region take to transition to a low-carbon economy?

The fact that the UAE has secured COP28 is an incredible achievement. It is an opportunity to demonstrate how seriously the UAE – whose economy has traditionally relied on fossil fuels –  takes the need to align its future economic development plan with a more sustainable world. To transition, the country needs to nurture new green industries and help existing industries adapt their businesses to be compatible with climate change.

Diversifying an oil and gas company into low-carbon solutions is a critical first step towards maintaining prosperity in a region that is largely dependent on oil and gas. For example, ADNOC recently announced a new vertical focused on developing low-carbon solutions and has been investing in clean hydrogen.

More generally, the GCC should look at building solar and wind power, green finance frameworks, new energy and water efficiency initiatives, installing electric vehicle charging networks, and promoting sustainable aviation fuels, ideally underpinned by a carbon price.

Can you tell us a little more about which technologies you feel are best suited to support the GCC region’s decarbonization?

Building renewables is a huge opportunity from an economic and environmental perspective. A focus on technologies that take advantage of the region’s industrial capabilities makes sense. For example, there is good geology for carbon capture and storage in the GCC, and existing relevant industrial expertise gained from enhanced oil recovery. In the future, the region’s expertise, cheap electricity and geology may position the region as being a global hub for atmospheric carbon dioxide removal, including through direct air capture.

When it comes to hydrogen, there's enormous potential in the GCC region. It's one of five key geographies with the right resource mix to become a hydrogen superpower. This is a very capital-intensive sector, and so you need the big, deep-pocketed companies that are able to invest in these types of technologies. At the same time, there is an existential need to decarbonize and diversify the economy to find a way to be prosperous when international demand for oil and gas wanes. Hydrogen fills that gap, including through potential derivatives like green steel.

Finally, synthetic fuels or sustainable aviation fuels are another big regional opportunity. These essentially combine hydrogen and CO2 to form jet fuel, ideally with cheap power. The abundance of renewables in the region, plus these two feedstocks, combine to make a strong potential future industry.

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