Pandemic's 'great reset' makes energy firms invest more in renewables – executives

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A flare burns off excess gas from a gas plant in the Permian Basin in Loving County

By Florence Tan and Chen Aizhu

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The economic trauma caused by the coronavirus pandemic persuaded energy companies to step-up investments in renewables, hydrogen and other low carbon alternatives, but fossil fuels will remain dominant for the foreseeable future, industry executives said.

Reeling from the onset of the pandemic, global oil consumption shrank by more than 20% in the second quarter and prices hit their lowest in decades, making companies rethink how fast they should make the transition away from reliance on oil and gas.

“Everyone’s talking about this great reset … What do we need to do to survive this?” Arif Mahmood, Petronas’ executive vice president and CEO of downstream, said at the virtual Platts APPEC 2020.

“Energy transition will be pushed forward much faster,” he concluded.

The Malaysian state energy company posted a $5 billion (3.89 billion pounds) loss in April-June and has set up a team to reshape its portfolio and expand in solar and wind for power generation.

Oil majors such as BP (L:) have set ambitious targets while Chinese state energy companies tiptoed into renewables.

Felipe Bayon, chief executive of Colombia’s Ecopetrol, said the company wants to go from zero to 300 megawatts (MW) in renewable power generation by 2022 for its own use.

Besides expanding into solar and wind for power generation, more energy companies are researching blue hydrogen produced from and using carbon capture and storage (CCS) to reduce emissions in the process. The hydrogen could be used in power plants and fuel cell vehicles.

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Royal Dutch Shell (L:) is involved in biomethane, biofuels and hydrogen and has done “significant work” on CCS as the energy major strikes a balance between energy transition and its core hydrocarbons business, Mark Quartermain, Shell’s vice president of crude trading & supply, told the conference.

“We understand that energy transition is coming. We still see, of course, a huge future in our hydrocarbon business, but when it comes to energy transition we need to be in these markets,” he said.

Heads of research at commodity trader Vitol and Citigroup (NYSE:) expect CCS to be the next key area of development.

“Hydrogen and carbon capture are more likely in short term to be contributing to decarbonization,” Giovanni Serio, Vitol’s global head of research, said, calling on the industry to invest more in CCS.

“Some countries are finding ways through credit systems and other mechanisms to price carbons…It’s what’s really needed for carbon capture to take off,” Ed Morse, managing director and global head of commodities research at Citigroup said.

However, “the cost structure of hydrogen is just not competitive enough…it’s there but it could be end of the decade phenomenon,” Morse said.

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