Renewables Continue to Surprise

By Vicky Harris, Vice President Marketing on April 03, 2018
Vicky Harris
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“There must be a chance that renewables will continue to surprise on the upside.” These were the words of Spencer Dale, chief economist at BP, one of the largest energy firms in the world, according to a recent article by E&P magazine. His comments seem to be perfectly on brand. BP is a company that has realized, through trial and error, that the only viable future of energy is sustainable energy.

In the mid-2000s, the company, then called “British Petroleum,” launched a rebranding initiative and changed their name to BP, along with the tagline “Beyond Petroleum.” Soon, a near-death experience would serve to ensure that their actions followed their words. In 2010, an accident at one of their oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, called by The Smithsonian, “the worst oil spill in U.S. history,” focused the company to look beyond petroleum, just as their tagline suggested.

Can a sustainable future be profitably powered by big energy companies?

The Share of Renewables is Accelerating

Today, BP is deeply engaged in renewables. Every year, the company releases a report called “The Energy Outlook,” which in their own words, “explores the forces shaping the global energy transition out to 2040 and the key uncertainties surrounding that transition.” Their most recent report concludes, “the outlook for renewables has increased significantly,” adding, “the continuing rapid growth of renewables is leading to the most diversified fuel mix ever seen.”

BP is not abandoning fossil fuels. What they are doing is diversifying, investing in R&D, and listening to consumers of energy to remain relevant in 2040 and beyond. BP’s 2018 Energy Outlook Executive Summary has two salient points regarding renewables:

  • “The share of vehicle kilometers powered by electricity increases, as the number of electric cars grows and they are used more intensively. The interaction of fully autonomous cars with shared mobility substantially boosts the intensity with which electric cars are driven.”
  • “Renewable energy is the fastest-growing energy source, accounting for 40% of the increase in primary energy. The energy mix by 2040 is the most diversified the world has ever seen.”

The Energy Outlook gives several scenarios for the growth of different energies. According to one scenario, entitled “Evolving Transition,” BP reports, “renewables can become the largest source of energy growth, gaining share in power at an unprecedented rate.” An example of the realities supporting this bullish outlook is the sheer growth of solar, which they point out, “global solar power in 2035 is more than 150% higher than in the Base Case [scenario] of the 2015 Energy Outlook. This reflects solar costs falling faster than anticipated, with solar energy now projected to be widely competitive by the mid-2020s―10 years earlier than previously expected.” Other renewables, such as wind and hydrogen, seem to be following a similar curve.

An even more aggressive scenario of the Energy Outlook, referred to as “Alternative Push,” envisions renewables accounting “for more than 90% of the growth in power demand over the Outlook, with the share of renewables within power reaching over 40% by 2040, compared with 25% in the Evolving Transition scenario.”

No Way Back is Good News for All

None of the scenarios explored in BP’s 2018 Energy Outlook sees a slowdown in the adoption of renewables. Their most conservative scenario indicates that renewables could increase five-fold to account for 14% of the world’s energy consumption mix by 2040, driven by technology and policies at all levels of government.

BP is only one among the many energy companies around the globe that are embracing what they call the “global energy transition.” This future world of energy is expected to give a boost to economies and jobs around the world. For perspective, a month ago, WindPower reported that “a coalition of partners launched the U.S. Clean Energy Progress Map―a comprehensive, dynamic tool that shows the economic impact of clean energy growth across the country. The article states that the map is a “non-partisan, free-to-use public resource that captures investments and jobs in the U.S. wind, solar and energy efficiency industries.” Their aim is to enlighten consumers about the jobs directly and indirectly connected with the growth of renewables in the United States.

A “Decisive Break from the Past”

The last point in BP’s Energy Outlook Executive Summary indicates, “In the Evolving Transition scenario, carbon emissions continue to rise, signaling the need for a comprehensive set of actions to achieve a decisive break from the past.” Facts, industry trends, and consumer engagement all seem to be pointing to the same conclusion: the pace of renewables is accelerating, and there is no way back to the energy-as-usual days dominated by one single source of energy. Happily, companies we used to associate with fossil fuels, such as BP, seem to be bent on “a decisive break from the past” to become the good global citizens we all need them to be.


Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.
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