Oil may be cheap and abundant right now, but oil companies around the world can feel the wind blowing in a new direction — literally. With renewables such as wind and solar slowly gaining more share of the energy market, Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world’s biggest oil companies, is mulling a way to get in on the action.
According to a recent report from Reuters, Shell is under pressure from shareholders to have a long-term strategy beyond fossil fuels and is considering possible acquisitions in the green energy industry.
"I am convinced that in this space we will play an active role, a leading role and we will plan acquisitions in it," Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, told Reuters.
The transformation is already under way.
Late last year, the company pulled out of its attempted drilling operations in the Arctic, after pumping $7 billion on the effort to tap into the hard-to-reach oil. Economics were the obvious driver behind the decision, but months of protests in Seattle and the mounting vibe of controversy surrounding the prospect of drilling in an environmentally sensitive part of the world played a role as well.
Feeling the heat from all sides, Shell has already begun investing in renewables. Reuters notes that the company owns around 500 megawatts of onshore wind power capacity in the U.S. It also runs a biofuels company in Brazil that makes ethanol from sugar mixed with petrol and diesel.
Shell also isn’t the only oil company shifting from fossil fuels to energy in general. For example, Total, a French oil giant, shelled out $1.1 billion to buy a company that makes batteries to store solar energy. It also owns a stake in AutoGrid, a company focused on increasing the efficiency of home energy appliances, as well as SunPower, which manufactures solar panels.
Meanwhile, Statoil, Norway’s multinational company, has made big investments in wind power.
Shell, however, is focusing on a slightly different direction. Instead of owning green energy technologies, the company hinted that it could aim to become a gas and electricity provider.
Other American majors, such as Exxon and Chevron, have been more reluctant to go green and seem to be betting on sufficient demand for oil for the next few decades. Earlier this year the Financial Times reported that BP had also abandoned its “beyond petroleum” strategy to focus on oil and gas.
For Shell stakeholders, taking the lead on switching to green energy isn’t just about staying ahead of the market — it’s also about coming to terms with the public’s perception about oil’s role in climate change.
"We don't just want them to pay lip service and do it because the industry is under pressure," Rohan Murphy, co-manager of Allianz' Global Energy Fund, a Shell shareholder, told Reuters.
"Shell do seem to be taking the issue of a less hydrocarbon dependent world seriously and are looking at it properly rather than just talking about becoming greener," Murphy said.