The growth of renewables has been revolutionary, with wind and solar emerging towards the bottom of the global cost curve, scaling up at a pace of 270TWH pa. However, we find unsettling evidence that the market could slow by c15% from 2020, plateauing in heartland geographies such as California, Germany and the UK. The rationale, and all the underlying data, are included in this 6-page PDF research report and associated Excel file.
It is often said that Oil Majors should become Energy Majors by transitioning to renewables. But what is the best balance based on portfolio theory? Our 7-page note answers this question, by constructing a mean-variance optimisation model. We find a c0-20% weighting to renewables maximises risk-adjusted returns. The best balance is 5-13%. But beyond a c35% allocation, both returns and risk-adjusted returns decline rapidly.
Pages 2-3 outline our methodology for assessing the optimal risk-adjusted returns of a Major energy company’s portfolio, including the risk, return and correlations of traditional investment options: upstream, downstream and chemicals.
Page 4 quantifies the lower returns that are likely to be achieved on renewable investment options, such as wind, solar and CCS, based on our recent modeling.
Pages 5-6 present an “efficient frontier” of portfolio allocations, balanced between traditional investment options and renewables, with different risk and return profiles.
Pages 6-7 draw conclusions about the optimal portfolios, showing how to maximise returns, minimise risk and maximise risk-adjusted returns (Sharpe ratio).
The work suggests oil companies should primarily remain oil companies, working hard to improve the efficiency and lower the CO2-intensities of their base businesses.
Technology leadership is crucial in energy. It drives costs, returns and future resiliency. Hence, we have reviewed 3,000 recent patent filings, across the 25 largest energy companies, in order to quantify our “Top Ten” patent leaders in energy.
This 34-page note ranks the industry’s “Top 10 technology-leaders”: in upstream, offshore, deep-water, shale, LNG, gas-marketing, downstream, chemicals, digital and renewables.
For each topic, we profile the leading company, its edge and the proximity of the competition.
Companies covered by the analysis include Aramco, BP, Chevron, Conoco, Devon, Eni, EOG, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Occidental, Petrobras, Repsol, Shell, Suncor and TOTAL.
There is only one way to decarbonise the energy system: leading companies must find economic opportunities in better technologies. No other route can source sufficient capital to re-shape such a vast industry that spends c$2trn per annum. We outline seven game-changing opportunities. Leading energy Majors are already pursuing them in their portfolios, patents and venturing. Others must follow suit.
Pages 2-3 show that today’s technologies are not sufficient to decarbonise the global energy system, which will surpass 100,000TWH pa by 2050. Better technologies are needed.
Pages 4-6 show how Oil Majors are starting to accelerate the transition, by developing these game-changing technologies. The work draws on analysis of 3,000 patents, 200 venture investments and other portfolio tilts.
Pages 7-13 profile seven game-changing themes, which can deliver both the energy transition and vast economic opportunities in the evolving energy system. These prospects cover electric mobility, gas, digital, plastics, wind, solar and CCS. In each case, we find leading Oil companies among the front-runners.
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.
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.
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.
Fears over the energy transition are now restricting investment in fossil fuels, based on our new paper, published in conjunction with the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, linked here.
They have elevated capital costsby 4-7% for oil and by c25% for coal, compared with the early 2010s.
- One consequence will be to concentrate capital into renewables, gas, and shorter-cycle oil projects (i.e., shale).
- But there will also be negative consequences, risking long-run supply shortages of oil and coal.
- Companies are also being pressured to ‘harvest’ their existing assets, rather than maximising potential value in the 2020s, which may impact valuations.
For further details please see the full paper, linked here, or contact us.
In 2018, we reviewed 250-years of energy transitions, arguing that another great energy transition is now on hand.
It will occur over the next century. Thus for another hundred years, today’s energy industry will remain vitally important. In addition, new sources of supply will create unimaginable new sources of energy demand.
A podcast summarising the work is available from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.