Hydrogen: A Catalyst for Equality. A Guest Interview with Stefan Sjöström

By Vicky Harris, Vice President Marketing on June 01, 2016
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Joi Scientific business advisor Stefan Sjöström provides an insightful discussion on how Hydrogen 2.0 “changes the business model of energy.” His global perspective of how Hydrogen 2.0 itself can be a catalyst for social change is especially relevant given his role as Vice President for the Public Sector in Asia for Microsoft.

In this week’s interview, Stefan goes straight into the big picture of what Hydrogen 2.0 is all about: addressing the big social issues that affordable and available universal energy can bring about. After all, people at Microsoft are known for thinking big.

Stefan is not shy to use terms such as “social equalizer” and “disruptor.” His concept of Hydrogen 2.0 as a catalyst is simple: it can create a level playing field that enables other basic services such as education and healthcare. Entrepreneurs can take it from there to apply it in really transformational ways in all areas of society—in developing and developed economies alike.

The Interview

Vicky Harris, Vice President of Marketing at Joi Scientific, interviewed Stefan last week. Here’s what they discussed:

  • Tell us how you got to where you are at Microsoft today and how the collaboration with the United Nations came about.

I am a Swedish national, but throughout my career, I have always had a global scope and I have been fortunate to work with people in an international environment.

In 2001, I moved to Switzerland to head up Citrix EMEA and remained there until joining Microsoft in 2008 where I managed the public sector in Europe. I moved to Singapore a couple of years ago to head up the public sector in Asia for Microsoft. Since I have been in Asia, I have been able to address some of the region’s big social issues and have been involved in tackling human trafficking with the United Nations.

  • What compelled you to get involved as a business advisor for Joi Scientific?

When their CEO, Traver Kennedy, and I started speaking about the company, two things immediately happened. First, I got quite excited about what Joi Scientific is working on, and believe they are on the verge of addressing big social issues by providing clean energy and clean water for the developing world.

Additionally, I recognized that in developed economies, specifically, Hydrogen 2.0 technology can be applied in innovative ways for all types of applications. For instance, fuel cells for powering up data centers is a really good example, thereby, creating a fertile ground from which the economy can prosper and help to create a cleaner world.

  • Do you see a “democratization of the energy market” addressing social and economic inequalities?

I think Hydrogen 2.0 could be a catalyst for equality in developing communities, helping to create a level playing field where local villages have remote access to everything—from education to healthcare and clean energy.

So, to your point on democratizing the world, I think Hydrogen 2.0 will enable people to participate in ways never thought possible; and I absolutely think it has huge potential. For example, if you put a fuel cell bank into a village that has no electricity today, this could essentially power up the entire village, allowing them to cook, read at night, and ultimately do things they would never have dreamed of doing before. So, of course, it is a social equalizer on a large scale, if you put it that way. In rural areas of India for example, you are talking about hundreds of millions of people not having access to electricity at night.

  • Today, nations with natural energy resources have a monopoly on energy. From your experience, how will licensing cost-effective hydrogen generation to developing economies change this?

I think creating licensing agreements that make hydrogen fuel supply affordable sets the pace for doing it the right way. Hydrogen 2.0 is in the embryonic stage of changing the rules. When Hydrogen 2.0 gets to scale, it will not only enable the rural development in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America; it will also help us to start solving the issues of our carbon footprint.

I think people will be pretty quick to figure out the benefits of what Hydrogen 2.0 does. It will be entrepreneurs that want to build these new solutions to meet our home and industry needs, and the common denominator is, of course, hydrogen. Hydrogen is where it’s going, and the thing that’s going to accelerate the process of taking us there is when the cost and availability of hydrogen make it easy for the widest demographic.

  • Given the investment in traditional energy and infrastructure, how can Hydrogen 2.0 be an economic driver that forces change?

There are vested interests in our current energy paradigm, no question about that. Hydrogen 2.0 changes the business model of energy. By bringing energy that is clean and affordable to market, Joi Scientific will disrupt the existing ecosystem around energy. I’ll put it this way: change is typically driven in three phases. The first phase is when change becomes technologically available. The second phase is when it becomes financially justifiable, and that is when the disruption begins. Finally, what is going to truly drive the change is when it becomes socially acceptable or socially demanding.

So logically, people will demand clean energy when it is both broadly available and low-cost—and that is when a technology becomes truly disruptive. Social acceptance only comes when people understand and are socially aware of what the issues are. Once this happens, nobody is going to choose to use an expensive, dirty energy source over a low-cost, clean energy source. However, this paradigm shift does not happen overnight.

  • Hydrogen applications have been gaining pace with fuel cell advances, transport, and stationary power developments. Where do you see Hydrogen 2.0 fitting in?

I anticipate that there is going to be a tremendous amount of activity around the technology development. There’s going to be a fair amount of activity with Joi Scientific themselves who will need to walk people through the advances until it becomes embedded as a license into the production capacity of a number of different companies and a number of different business models.

What you are talking about is hydrogen as an energy form—this is a big and new idea for people to grasp because you can use it for just about anything. Hydrogen 2.0 can be taken in so many different directions. Joi Scientific has the basic research to prove its feasibility in numerous applications so that organizations everywhere can take it in many directions. Specifically, the company’s licensing arrangements will enable others that are experts and entrepreneurs in their field to build the right applications around it.

That is where I have a great interest because I believe that this is for social good. Hydrogen 2.0 is something that is good for everyone. It is not something that you want to hold back and maximize revenue on. You want to make it broadly available and bring it out to drive social good. And that is exactly what Joi Scientific is working to do.

About Stefan Sjöström

Stefan Sjöström is a business advisor for Joi Scientific. He is the Vice President for the Public Sector in Asia at Microsoft Corporation. Stefan also works to help the United Nations address the region’s big social issues and has been involved in tackling human trafficking. Before Microsoft, Stefan ran the EMEA region for Citrix. You can read more about his background here.


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