For employees of a company built on oil, Shell’s top energy forecasters have an unexpected enthusiasm for electric vehicles.
While the rest of the world has been watching its competitors struggle to access oil reserves in competition with state-owned firms, Shell has become the world’s largest distributor of biofuels, a company that is on the verge of producing more natural gas than oil, and an advocate for pricing carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas associated with global warming.
“We are not afraid to explore discontinuities in our business,” Shell chief energy adviser Wim Thomas told Breaking Energy in a recent interview following his participation in an Economist Conference called the Global Energy Conversation.
Any losses in the company’s traditional oil sector share as a result of more efficient electric vehicles would be more than outpaced by the huge growth in mobility and transportation demand in developing countries. The more efficient engines that improved battery technology could support would further juice transport demand in a high-priced transport fuel environment, leaving the company situated at the heart of a new energy economy as it ramps up supplies of natural gas or renewable fuels to both generators and customers.
The company’s shift to natural gas and renewable fuels is “not by accident” Thomas says.
Investments need to be made with a carbon price in mind even if informally at this point in the climate change debate, and Shell has formalized the process by including carbon price cost estimates in its engineering evaluations. The company supports a cap and trade system alongside a clean development mechanism process that would both allow markets to most-efficiently attribute costs and benefits, Thomas says, comments that assume particular weight in the shadow of the recently concluded Durban round of multilateral climate change talks.