Oil's green gusher

You can hardly blink these days without another oil and gas giant making a move in renewable energy, whether it’s announcing a deal or hanging its hat on some sort of green “transformation”.

It’s not hard to see why. The world’s fossil giants are in the eye of the proverbial perfect storm, with Covid-19 just the latest headwind to add to energy transition disruptions that could wipe two-thirds – an eye-watering $25 trillion – from the planet's oil & gas reserves, as Recharge reported this week.

The last few days brought another gusher of announcements, notably from Total as it made a dramatic debut in UK offshore wind by buying control of Seagreen, Scotland’s largest project, with analysts predicting more such deals are on the cards for the French supermajor.

Italian oil & gas giant Eni, meanwhile, was on the corporate transformation trail, or to be more precise what its CEO called “an irreversible path that will make us leaders in decarbonised energy products”.

Now, it’s certainly the case that swoops like Total’s are far from being hype or greenwash. Seagreen’s erstwhile solo developer, the power utility SSE, needed a partner with deep pockets to get the giant wind farm built, and the fossil sector has the capital – and in many cases the technical expertise – to make projects happen.

But it’s worthwhile taking the odd reality check on what it all amounts to, of the sort reported by Recharge from analyst group Rystad which points to only one oil & gas group being set to divert serious levels of investment to renewables by 2025.

The exception that proves the rule is Norway’s Equinor, which this week christened its giant 2GW offshore wind power project in the US Atlantic as Beacon Wind.

Vattenfall's UK seapower fury

The UK doesn’t lead the world in much these days – in matters it would want to shout about at least – but offshore wind is an exception, and a rare chance for many a renewable-loving Brit to feel genuine pride.

A shame then that Boris Johnson’s government is in the crosshairs of one of Europe’s leading renewable utilities, Vattenfall, whose plans off Eastern England have had a miserable few weeks that led its country manager to question Britain's “intentions for this sector”.

Vattenfall’s frustration came as it saw one offshore wind project refused, and two of its biggest developments subject to consent delays, in the case of one by up to five months.

Sector pace-setter Orsted was also swept up in the postponement, as the offshore wind industry began to tally a mounting pile of delays and knock-backs in the world’s biggest market for wind at sea.

There was better news across the water, with Germany setting a 40GW target for 2040 – albeit with a ‘negative bidding’ tender mechanism that set alarm bells ringing – and another big turbine deal to advance the first wave of long-delayed offshore wind French projects.

And Vattenfall could at least end its week on a positive note with a final investment decision on the 1.5GW Hollandse Kust South project off the Netherlands, that will be the world’s largest built without subsidies.

Fusion cooking

Regular readers of Agenda will know that Recharge is fond of news about an innovative technology with the potential to transform the global energy sector – with hydrogen or batteries often favourites.

There was big news on both fronts this week, for sure, with Berlin mulling a fleet of 'German electrolysers' across the EU to meet its massive green hydrogen needs, and plans by a Siemens joint venture to top Tesla in Australian batteries.

But this week’s hottest candidate – tens of millions of degrees Celsius in fact – is fusion energy, which plans to tap the forces that power the sun to offer unlimited zero-carbon power on tap.

The emphasis here is on ‘plans to’, and to say the technology has a way to go is an understatement, but fusion efforts got another boost when oil group Equinor – them again – joined existing investors including Bill Gates to back a pioneering US fusion venture that wants to crack it by the early 2030s.

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