The little company, First Utility, is an upstart challenger. It offers friendly customer service, and low prices on electricity and natural gas. But it doesn’t own any power plants or gas pipelines; First Utility is a virtual energy company — the product of technological advancement and deregulation.
Its recent acquisition by Shell, a living dinosaur that continues to make its billions pumping fossil fuels out of the ground, illustrates one of the ways the energy companies that dominated the past are looking toward a future in which power is harnessed from the sun and the wind. It is a future that the petroleum industry is increasingly trying to embrace, leveraging its financial and logistical resources as it puzzles out ways to deal with the climate change problem its companies helped create.
Leading Shell’s efforts is Ben van Beurden. Since taking over as Shell’s chief executive in 2014, Van Beurden has had to balance the company’s mainstay oil and gas business with the regulatory, shareholder and societal pressures — not to mention familial guilt — that will perhaps inevitably push Shell and its competitors to leave those businesses behind.
Van Beurden recently recalled how his 9-year-old daughter had once come home from school in tears. “She had heard that the Earth was warming up and being destroyed by people like Shell,” he said.
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