Executive Briefings

Shell Braces for Change by Expanding Its Foothold in Electricity

Royal Dutch Shell Plc is taking small steps toward a future dominated by electric cars, renewable energy and carbon constraints, demonstrating its intent not to remain solely an oil and gas company.

The energy giant agreed last month to purchase First Utility Ltd., the U.K.’s seventh-largest power provider. Its offshore-wind partnership with Eneco may expand further, with newspaper Telegraaf reporting last week that Shell is considering buying the Dutch utility outright.

Big Oil entering the heavily regulated European power market isn’t a natural fit today. Yet it makes sense for a future in which consumers want charging points alongside gasoline pumps at fueling stations, and iPhone apps and smart home devices generate vast amounts of energy-use data that itself becomes a valuable commodity.

“We’re on the cusp of a potentially rather fundamental reorganization of the way that consumers purchase and get access to electricity,” said Rick Wheatley, an executive vice president at Xynteo Ltd., which advises oil companies including Shell on long-term sustainable planning. The oil industry is realizing “that things may begin to move much faster” in renewables and the electrification of transport, he said.

New Markets

Shell’s steps toward selling electricity have so far have been modest in comparison to its vast fossil fuels business. The company pumped 1.85 million barrels of oil and 10.47 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day in the third quarter, more than enough to supply the whole of the U.K. In contrast, First Utility has no generation of its own, instead buying power wholesale from a Shell unit, and supplies just 3 percent of the country’s residential energy market.

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The energy giant agreed last month to purchase First Utility Ltd., the U.K.’s seventh-largest power provider. Its offshore-wind partnership with Eneco may expand further, with newspaper Telegraaf reporting last week that Shell is considering buying the Dutch utility outright.

Big Oil entering the heavily regulated European power market isn’t a natural fit today. Yet it makes sense for a future in which consumers want charging points alongside gasoline pumps at fueling stations, and iPhone apps and smart home devices generate vast amounts of energy-use data that itself becomes a valuable commodity.

“We’re on the cusp of a potentially rather fundamental reorganization of the way that consumers purchase and get access to electricity,” said Rick Wheatley, an executive vice president at Xynteo Ltd., which advises oil companies including Shell on long-term sustainable planning. The oil industry is realizing “that things may begin to move much faster” in renewables and the electrification of transport, he said.

New Markets

Shell’s steps toward selling electricity have so far have been modest in comparison to its vast fossil fuels business. The company pumped 1.85 million barrels of oil and 10.47 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day in the third quarter, more than enough to supply the whole of the U.K. In contrast, First Utility has no generation of its own, instead buying power wholesale from a Shell unit, and supplies just 3 percent of the country’s residential energy market.

Read Full Article