Op-Ed: Big Oil goes green? It’s happening, but in tiny doses

Posted Aug 15, 2017 by Paul Wallis
OK, given that oil is sacred to the cows of the financial world, never to be questioned or to provide a rational statement on any subject – Why is Big Oil investing in green energy? It looks almost like sanity, so there must be something wrong with it.
Energy companies were weighed down by sliding oil prices as European stock markets stumbled
Energy companies were weighed down by sliding oil prices as European stock markets stumbled
Miguel Medina, AFP
The story at face value isn’t exactly a monument to depth of perception or commitment on the part of the oil companies. Investment is somewhat shy of frenzied, and is in miniscule amounts of money, but it is a sort of ideological backflip.
Maybe it’s because big money is going in to clean energy from investors. Billions of dollars are flowing from the not-very altruistic venture capital (VC) sector in to new energy sources.
Some of the money from Big Oil is going in to technologies pretty close to home, although one of the investments is based on generating energy from flying a kite. The investments are all basically in to emerging/developing technology, so it’s a clear pattern.
It may just be that Big Oil has managed to detach itself from its usual market stupor and is taking an interest in real-world investments. That would be a big cultural shift. Big Oil and Big Coal have shown no interest in researching the values of their carbon products in to more remunerative uses than fuel. (Graphene, smart polymers, etc. are all worth more than fuels, and they’re all made of carbon.)
They’re not innovators, hardly “disruptive”, and really pretty stodgy. They’re about as exciting as the faceless suit hordes culture they represent. To invest in what is basically their own competition is hardly usual.
The investments in to clean energy don’t seem to be part of a wider pattern. The usual behaviour of investment in clean energy shows a stop/start level of capital input. This input varies a lot, year by year. There’s no bandwagon in progress, so Big Oil is basically doing a lot of spot investments, across a pretty wide sprinkle of different techs.
A more likely scenario is that as the world markets change, Big Oil is rather timidly trying to adapt. Clean energy is much bigger in the wider world than in the boardrooms of the world’s least useful sector. India is pressing ahead with Clean Energy for All. China’s Big Oil superheavyweight Sinopec is looking at geothermal energy.
It makes more sense that Big Oil is belatedly realizing that the world is going beyond oil and that large scale changes are underway, on and off the CAD screens. That would explain the 50-year-overdue entry into technological changes which are inevitable anyway.
The last days of oil are now in sight. These are the giant markets even Big Oil can’t ignore. Even America, in its hysterical idiocy, will eventually take up the technologies which could have rebuilt America decades ago. Given the infantile intellects currently running corporate and political America, it’ll probably take until the end of this century, but it will happen.