Is the recent interest in renewables by oil companies just greenwash? A long time ago I took a friend from church who worked for Wood Mackenzie (a research and consultancy firm involved in the mining and oil industries) to a Scottish parliament renewable energy group meeting. No peak oil or climate sceptic afterwards he said “you do know Neil that all this interest by the oil companies in renewables is just greenwash?”. At the time the oil majors had big interests in renewables. Big is a relative term none of the their green interests could in any way be said to be a major part of their businesses. But at that time BP had major solar and some wind farm interests. BP solar was at one time the second largest PV manufacturer in the world. I bought their modules which are still on my main roof. They even branded themselves at “beyond petroleum”. Shell had wind and solar manufacturing interests. BP sold their PV subsidiary and closed their research labs at the aptly named Sunbury in the UK. Shell sold their PV manufacturing to Total of France. (There were said to be reliability issues with modules Shell sold in the developing world.)
It seemed as though the oil companies had given up on renewables until recently. But now the oil majors are dipping a toe in the alternative waters. Apart from Saudi Arabia which as I have written about is saying they want to get out of oil, Statoil, Total and Shell are all involved in some way. The question is why? Is it the Paris climate talks, peak oil, falling oil prices or the fact they can pick up renewable assets cheap at the moment? Who knows. The sums they are investing are a very small part of their revenues (less than 1%). Greenwash? We will see only Total is thought to be serious according to many environmentalists.