European oil & gas groups including Shell and Equinor are leaving their American counterparts trailing when it comes to embracing renewables, with US giant ConocoPhilips still to make a single investment in wind or solar, according to a study of 15 of the world’s biggest fossil players.
A survey of energy transition strategies by law firm CMS with Capital Economics found the oil companies had invested 3% of their combined capital budgets into renewables in 2018, with 96% of that $7bn going into wind and PV.
But the spending varies widely between regions, with a clutch of European groups including Total, Equinor, Repsol, BP and Shell hitting an average 6.2% of capital expenditure (Capex), against 0.8% for the rest of the world, including US giants Chevron, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.
Spain’s Repsol was the top renewables Capex performer in 2018 at 16.7%, with China’s CNPC bottom at 0.3%, according to the study.
The report reckons annual renewables investments by the 15 oil giants could by 2030 rise to between $10bn — if existing global energy transition policies remain broadly the same — and $31bn, under a more rapid transformation that would be in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The higher scenario would result in the sample group directing 10% of its total Capex to renewables and carbon capture, but depends on factors such as increased investor and regulatory pressure, and continuing falls in renewables costs, said CMS.
“We can say that it is very likely that Shell, BP, Total and Repsol will have invested the most in this area by 2030,” said the report’s authors.
CMS identifies a continuing gap in profitability between renewables and their core business as one of the key barriers to a shift in approach by the likes of ConocoPhilips, which has yet to make any investments in wind and solar, and Brazil’s Petrobras, which entered then pulled back from the sector.
“ The reality is that oil is generally still more profitable than renewables. As the profitability of renewables investment is proven, strategies in this group of companies may change, but there will remain less incentive to diversify when a company has large oil reserves.”
The deep pockets of the world’s oil and gas majors is seen as a key factor in helping finance the energy transition, as they embrace renewables to power their own operations or as attractive investments in their own right.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) earlier in January said oil & gas groups have a “crucial role” to play and urged them to raise their game.