BP will soon own the UK’s largest electric vehicle charging company. In France, oil giant Total already controls one of America’s largest solar panel makers. Even the state oil company of oil-rich Norway is launching floating wind farms.
Europe’s oil industry, under fire from governments and shareholders, is grabbing a foothold in clean energy.
Yet, unlike their European rivals, American juggernauts ExxonMobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX) have not yet made large-scale investments in solar, wind, electric cars or energy storage. Their more cautious approach raises their risk of being left behind if the energy revolution arrives faster than they anticipate.
“Exxon and Chevron have held their fire,” said Tom Ellacott, senior vice president of corporate research at energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.
Big Oil would have to spend $350 billion on wind and solar by 2035 to match the 12% market share it holds in global oil and gas, Wood Mackenzie estimates.
“At some point in the future, the oil and gas market will start to get squeezed as the energy transition takes off,” Ellacott said.
Electric vehicles pose a long-term threat to the industry’s business model. Almost half of America’s appetite for crude oil comes from passenger vehicles. Yet BP (BP) thinks 320 million electric vehicles will be on the world’s roads by 2040, compared with 2 million in 2016.
“Exxon thinks they can ride it out. They’ll be the last to move,” said Jeff McDermott, managing partner at Greentech Capital Advisors, a sustainable energy investment firm.
McDermott said that although drilling for oil has been a “damn profitable business,” disconnecting from change “does not recapture the past — it loses the future.”
Europe dips its toes in clean energy
Beth Comstock, former vice chair at General Electric (GE) and author of “Imagine it Forward,” a book about embracing change in business, told CNN Business that BP and Norway’s Equinor have done “incredibly innovative work” in renewables.
Not only is BP acquiring electric vehicle charging company Chargemaster, last year it placed a $200 million bet on solar by purchasing a stake in Lightsource, Europe’s largest solar development company.
Another European oil giant, France’s Total, spent $1.4 billion in 2011 to acquire a majority stake in San Jose, California-based solar panel maker SunPower (SPWR). And in 2016, Total (TOT) paid $1.1 billion to buy Saft Group, a manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries used to power electric vehicles.
Equinor, which was known as Statoil until this year, recently launched the world’s first floating wind farm near Scotland. It’s planning to build a wind farm off the coast of New York’s Long Island by 2023.
Comstock’s advice for Big Oil: “You have to look around the world, see this