From a few solar panels in a field and some wind turbines on the horizon at the turn of the millennium, renewable energy is now one of the fastest growing industries. The rapid public and political opinion shift towards clean power across the world in response to the threat of global warming has surprised official bodies, seasoned experts, and energy companies. As investment into the sector has seen the cost of wind turbines fall by nearly a third and solar panels by 80 per cent since 2009, their continued success begs the question; will this be the last century for fossil fuels reign? If this is the case, what does the future hold for the energy companies who built their fortunes from finite fuels that may have ultimately spelt their demise?
As an unlikely contender for the transition revolution, Shell, who have profiteered from the destruction of the planet is looking to secure its place in this brave new green world. After buying UK energy firm, First Utility, last year, the oil group has committed to using the supplier as a platform to develop renewable technologies by spending between $1 billion and $2 billion a year in the burgeoning field. When asked about the changing landscape being proved difficult for the leading energy companies, Shell’s CEO shrugged: “They are challenges for the Big Six, not challenges for the people who take on the Big Six”.
Unfortunately for the Big Six, it doesn’t seem they’ve cottoned on to the forecast. Though news headlines make it look like everyone and their dog is investing into renewable energy, the reality is that the UK government’s culling of subsidies and lack support for the new sector has created a ‘hostile environment’ that has spooked potential investors.
It seems that the nations leading energy suppliers have caught the anxiety, and it shows in their online publications about their activity in the renewable sector. Rather than a comprehensive guide to their investments and targets on renewable power, British Gas prefers a breadcrumb trail of blog posts. One curiously starts with ‘Whether you’re for or against continuing to drill for oil and mine coal – ’. Titled ‘Renewable Energy: Are we making strides’ is little more than a rundown on the investment in other countries, and does not once mention their own ‘strides’. Rather, it just talks about how ‘exciting’ it is that the UK is installing wind turbines. They also falsely state that 50.4% of energy in the UK now comes from renewable sources. The others mention brazenly that that own green assets are front-runners in the field; E.ON’s set up between Europe and North America generates 7GW, SSE generates 2.9 GW, EDF just 1GW, Scottish Power produces enough to supply 1.7m homes, while npower’s investment is sufficient to power just 400’000 homes, but they do print their bills on sustainably sourced paper.
Such statistics are not official data points, rather the cherry-picked figures that the firms choose to publish. With 29% of energy supply coming from renewables there is clearly a positive development in the field. But with a daily demand of 28.3 GW in the UK, it is clear that the Big Six have a long way to go to power themselves, and the UK cleanly.