Quantcast

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

Energy

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

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

By Wenonah Hauter

Five years ago this week, an emergency manager appointed by then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made the devastating decision to save money by switching Flint's water supply over from Detroit's water system to the Flint River. Seen as a temporary fix, the new water supply was not properly treated. High levels of lead leached from the old pipes, poisoning a generation of Flint's children, and bacteria responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease killed more than a dozen residents.

Read More Show Less
Los Angeles-Long Beach, California is listed as the nation's smoggiest city. Pixabay

Seven million more Americans lived in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution between 2015 and 2017 than between 2014 and 2016, and climate change is partly to blame, Time reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Kissing bug. Pavel Kirillov / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that the kissing bug, which can transmit a potentially deadly parasite, has spread to Delaware, ABC News reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
"Take the pledge today." Screenshot / StopFoodWasteDay.com

Did you know that more than a third of food is wasted or thrown away every year? And that only 25 percent of it would be enough to feed the 795 million undernourished people in the world? That's why today is Stop Food Waste Day, a chance to reflect on what you can do to waste less of the food you buy.

Stop Food Waste Day is an initiative of food service company Compass Group. It was launched first in the U.S, in 2017 and went global the year after, making today it's second worldwide celebration.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15 in Paris, France. Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images

When Paris's Notre Dame caught fire on April 15, the flames threatened more than eight centuries of culture and history. The fire evoked shock, horror and grief worldwide. While the cathedral burned, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed determination to rebuild what the French regard as a sacred site.

Read More Show Less
An artist's impression of NASA's InSight lander on Mars. NASA / JPL-CALTECH

Scientists have likely detected a so-called marsquake — an earthquake on Mars — for the first time, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Hero Images / Getty Images

Across the political aisle, a majority of American parents support teaching climate change in schools even though most teachers currently do not.

Read More Show Less