In 2019, Shell pledged $300M of new investment into forestry. TOTAL, BP and Eni are also pursuing similar schemes. But can they move the needle for CO2? In order to answer this question, we have tabulated our ‘top five’ facts about forestry. We think Oil Majors may drive the energy transition most effectively via developing better energy technologies in their portfolios.
We define a “good battery” as one that enhances the efficiency of the total energy system. Conversely, a “bad battery” diminishes it. This distinction matters and must not be overlooked in the world’s quest for cleaner energy. Electric Vehicles are most favoured, while grid-scale hydrogen is questioned.
Multiple records have just been broken for an LNG-powered ship, as construction completed at Heerema’s “Sleipnir” heavy-lift vessel (charted above). It substantiates our recent deep-dive note, which sees 40-60MTpa upside to LT LNG demand, from large, fuel-intensive ships, after IMO 2020.
Sleipnir is a record-setting crane-lift vessel, with capacity to pick up 20,000T. This eclipses the prior records in offshore oil and gas, which were around 12,000T, set by the Heerema Thialf and the Saipem 7000. Hence Sleipnir has already lined up 18 contracts, starting with the 15,800T topsides for Israel’s Leviathan gas field, and progressing on to Johan Sverdrup Phase II.
Sleipnir is a record-setting LNG vessel, burning gas as its primary fuel (although it can also burn diesel). With a displacement of 273,700T, we estimate it is the heaviest LNG-powered vessel ever built (eclipsing the largest such container ships, at 220,000T). With a cost of $1.5bn, we estimate it is also the most expensive LNG-powered ship ever built (eclipsing Carnival’s $1.1bn AidaNova cruise ship). It has the world’s first Type-C LNG tank in an enclosed column. Numbers are updated in our data-file here.
There is upside to LNG demandin large, fuel-intensive ships, especially cruise- and container ships, after IMO 2020. Small-scale LNG may offer an economic “bridge”, while bunkering becomes increasingly attractive as volumes per port scale past c80kTpa. Forward-thinking Majors are already investing to capture the future market.
Finally, for a video of the construction vessel being constructed…
Perovskites are the fastest-improving solar innovation. The best test-cells hit a new record of 28% efficiency last year, with line-of-sight to the mid-30s, i.e., 2x more efficient than today’s silicon photovoltaics. A Major is at the cutting edge.
The downstream industry is currently debating whether IMO 2020 sulphur regulations will be resolved quickly or slowly. We think the market-distortions may be prolonged by under-appreciated technology challenges.
Opportunities amidst the Challenge?
So if the market-distortions of IMO 2020 have longevity, who will stand to benefit? We are maintaining a data-file of the ‘Top Technologies for IMO 2020’ around the industry, which give specific companies an edge. The data file now contains over 25 technologies across 7 Majors.
Al-Shahrani, F., Koseoglu, O. R. & Bourane, A. (2018). Integrated System and Process for In-Situ Organic Peroxide Production and Oxidative HeteroAtom Conversion. Saudi Aramco Patent.
Koseoglu, O. R., (2018). Integrated Isomerisation and Hydrotreating Process. Saudi Aramco Patent CN107529542
Hanks, P. (2018). Trim Alkali Metal Desulfurisation of Refinery Fractiions. ExxonMobil Patent US2018171238
This note contains our ‘Top Five’ conclusions about the Oil Majors’ research partnerships, drawing off our database of 3,000 oil company patents. Different companies have importantly different approaches. We can quantify this, by looking at the number of patents co-filed with partners (chart above).
Global energy investment will need to rise by c$220-270bn per annum by 2025-30, according to the latest data from the IEA, which issued its ‘World Energy Investment’ report this week. We think the way to achieve this is via better energy technologies.
Specifically, the world invested $1.6bn in new energy supplies in 2018, which must be closer to $1.8-1.9bn, to meet future demand in 2025-30– whether emissions are tackled or not. The need for oil investment is most uncertain. More gas investment is needed in any scenario. And renewables investment must rise by 15-100%.
Hence the report strikes a cautious tone:“Current market and policy signals are not incentivising the major reallocation of capital to low-carbon power and efficiency that would align with a sustainable energy future. In the absence of such a shift, there is a growing possibility that investment in fuel supply will also fall short of what is needed to satisfy growing demand”.
We do not think the conclusions are surprising. Our work surveying 50 investors last year found that fears over the energy transition are elevating capital costs for conventional energy investments (below).
Meanwhile, low returns make it challenging to invest at scale in renewables.
We argue better energy technologies are the antidote to attracting capital back into the industry. That is why Thunder Said Energy focuses on the opportunities arising from energy technologies. Please see further details in our recent note, ‘What the Thunder Said’. For all our ‘Top Technologies’ in energy, please see here.
IEA (2019). World Energy Investment. International Energy Agency.
We categorised 300 of the Oil Majors’ technologies according to their technical maturity. We find the most exciting examples are not the most technically mature, but those on the cusp of commercialisation. Majors that work on earlier-stage technologies also have better overall technologies (c50% correlation coefficient). Hence, to create value, it is important to maintain a constant funnel of technology opportunities.
When we assess an energy technology, we score it on four dimensions: how far does it advance the industry-standard? How large is the potential economic impact? How proprietary is it? And finally, is it “ready”?
To quantify the final category, we use the industry-standard conceptual framework of ‘Technology Readiness Levels’ (TRLs), which are summarised below. It is worth being familiar with this categorization, as it recurs throughout our work.
But when do technologies get exciting?
To some extent, “excitement” depends upon your perspective. Venture funds may find most value on the earlier rungs of the ladder. But most companies and investors get excited in the later stages. We can measure this. The results are surprising.
Below, we have summarised our “TSE Technology Scores” for 300 technologies, used by the 25 oil and gas companies that we follow. The highest scores appear to be for technologies at Readiness Level Seven (chart below).
Even though these technologies are less mature than TRLs 8-9, we think they are more exciting. This is unexpected. As discussed above, our “Technology Scores” specifically award higher marks to more mature technologies, and penalise those that are less mature.
On the other hand, maybe it is not so surprising. Opportunities at TRL7 are, by definition, new and cutting-edge. Conversely, the shine tends to wear off for more mature technologies, that have already spread around the industry.
What does it means for companies?
If the most exciting technologies are the ones on the cusp of commercialisation, it is important that leading companies can embrace them. We think the answer is to maintain a rich funnel of opportunities, including those at earlier stages. Our data suggest that the technology-leaders around the industry are doing exactly this…
Below, we rank the 25 oil and gas companies that we follow. We find a 50% correlation between the companies that are working on ‘earlier stage’ technologies and those that have better overall technologies.
Investable insights. To develop a lead in technology, you have to be involved in developing technology. If your sole approach is to buy mature technologies off the shelf, you will only access them later, and with less theoretical context than the leaders. We think this explains the correlation above. We also think it matters for investing in the best energy companies, where technical capabilities are starkly different (below).
How can we help? For our full database of 300 technologies, scores by company, or by industry sub-segment, please contact us. We can also provide consultancy services on your company, highlighting areas where there is most scope for improvement, by reference to peers’ best-practices.
An exciting aspiration in wind technology is to obviate large, expensive “towers”, and unleash tethered kites into the skies. They can access 2-4x more wind-power at greater altitudes, and at 50-90% lower costs. Intriguingly, we have discovered Exxon and Shell are at the forefront of pursuing this new wind opportunity offshore, based on their patents and filings.