Shell has added hundreds of jobs to its New Energies division as it plans to expand further in alternative fuels, wind and solar, a company executive said. The oil and gas giant created a new division last year that focuses on investing in hydrogen, biofuels, solar and the wind. Mark Gainsborough, Shell’s executive vice president of new energies, said the division’s workforce has expanded to more than 200 staff as the company looks to invest around US$1 billion per year by 2020.
“We need to get the business to a material scale but it will take time,” Mr. Gainsborough said at the Shell Eco-marathon in Singapore. “I’m building the team and we’re looking at a range of different opportunities.” Hundreds of thousands of jobs in the hydrocarbon sector were lost during the recent slump in oil prices that lasted more than two years.
In the renewable energy sector, however, employment numbers have grown. The International Renewable Energy Agency, based in Abu Dhabi, said more than eight million people were employed in the clean-energy sector in 2015 – a 5 percent increase from the previous year – with solar being the largest employer.
New energy from the Middle East could play a very important role for Shell as the adoption of solar throughout the region increases. “In the long run, we envisage a lot of renewable energy power being produced from the Middle East,” Mr. Gainsborough said.
But the problem with solar power is the lack of options for affordable storage technologies. Mr. Gainsborough said there is the potential to convert renewable energy into hydrogen, which can then be transported via pipeline, for example, to a connection point. “That’s a concept that we’re thinking about,” he said.
Shell is not the only oil major to move into renewables. France’s Total took a 60 per cent stake in the panel manufacturer SunPower in 2011. The solar company increased its revenue by 63 per cent to $2.56bn last year from $1.57bn in 2015. The UK’s BP has had less success, with its alternative energy division shut down in 2009 after only a few years of operation.
Mr. Gainsborough said much has changed since BP began in alternative energy. “The new energies business is much more material, with investments at $300bn annually now,” he said. “The key is to do things on a sound commercial opportunity, not just because it looks good.”