Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Faced by Falling Oil Prices and Plunging Profits, Big Oil Invests in Renewables

Energy
Faced by Falling Oil Prices and Plunging Profits, Big Oil Invests in Renewables

The big oil companies’ on-off affair with renewable energies seems to be back on track.

Recent reports say Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil conglomerate, is to invest $1.7 billion in forming a new company division aimed specifically at developing renewable energy and low carbon power. 

As a recent report pointed out, the oil companies have failed to adapt to an increasingly fragmented global energy system. Buffeted by low oil prices and tightening climate change-related regulations, they have seen a sharp drop in their financial fortunes.

This follows on the heels of an announcement by the  French oil company Total, another of the oil giants, that it is stepping up its investments in clean energy, spending more than $1 bn buying Saft, a major battery manufacturer. Total has also purchased  a majority share in SunPower,  a leading solar concern.

Even ExxonMobil, for long an organization which cast doubt on the whole science of global warming, has recently announced plans to investigate fuel cell technology in order to build carbon capture and storage facilities and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from power installations. 

Low Investments

On the face of it, this is all good news in the battle against climate change. Emissions from fossils fuels, particularly from oil and coal burning, are a major driver of global warming.

Yet as a proportion of their overall spending, the oil giants’ investments in renewables are still very low, and are dwarfed by their spending on fossil fuel-related activities.

Also, in the past, the oil majors have made much-publicized announcements about alternative energy investments, only to later quietly withdraw their support.

As a recent report pointed out, the oil companies have failed to adapt to an increasingly fragmented global energy system. Buffeted by low oil prices and tightening climate change-related regulations, they have seen a sharp drop in their financial fortunes.

BP has been worst hit, reporting a loss of $6.5 billion in 2015 compared to a profit of $3.8bn the previous year. 

Market Share Lost

Operating in an oil market which is increasingly chaotic and unstructured is not easy. The major oil companies—once all-powerful in the energy market—have over the years lost production and market share to state-owned conglomerates, most of them gathered under the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) umbrella.

In recent years OPEC itself has begun to fracture, and production level agreements have broken down.

Member countries Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter enemies. Libya is in a state of near civil war. There is political chaos in Venezuela. Rebel groups are attacking oil installations in Nigeria

Meanwhile non-OPEC members—the U.S. and Canada—have been adding to a global oil glut—caused primarily by a slowing world economy—by pumping out millions of barrels of oil from shale deposits and by fracking

Experts say that in order to survive, the oil majors have to invest in new technologies, including renewables. Once again, the companies are taking tentative steps along that path, but it might be too little, too late for them to survive.

Kieran Cooke, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Financial Times. He now focuses on environmental issues

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

India Records Highest Temperature Ever: 123.8 Degrees Fahrenheit

How Carbon Farming Can Reverse Climate Change

Trump Cannot Derail Paris Climate Deal

Fossil Fuel Industry-Funded Attorneys General Try to Block Exxon Climate Fraud Probe

One report in spring 2020 found that 38% of students at four-year universities were food-insecure. Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty Images

By Matthew J. Landry and Heather Eicher-Miller

When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn't rank very high.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Coast Guard members work to clean an oil spill impacting Delaware beaches. U.S. Coast Guard District 5

Environmental officials and members of the U.S. Coast Guard are racing to clean up a mysterious oil spill that has spread to 11 miles of Delaware coastline.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Plain Naturals offers a wide variety of CBD products including oils, creams and gummies.

Plain Naturals is making waves in the CBD space with a new product line for retail customers looking for high potency CBD products at industry-low prices.

Read More Show Less
What happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years? Halfpoint / Getty Images

By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie

Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?

Read More Show Less
Donald Trump and Joe Biden arrive onstage for the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on Oct. 22, 2020. JIM WATSON / AFP via Getty Images

Towards the end of the final presidential debate of the 2020 election season, the moderator asked both candidates how they would address both the climate crisis and job growth, leading to a nearly 12-minute discussion where Donald Trump did not acknowledge that the climate is changing and Joe Biden called the climate crisis an existential threat.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch