Shell hunts for new markets amid global shift from fossil fuels
London — Royal Dutch Shell aims to expand marketing operations in Asia and wants 20% of sales from its petrol stations worldwide to come from recharging electric vehicles and low carbon fuels by 2025, as the world shifts away from crude.
The Anglo-Dutch firm, with 43,000 fuel stations in 80 countries, aims to expand in China and India, as well as Mexico, where it sees fossil fuel growth in the next decade, John Abbott, the head of refining, trading and marketing, said.
But he said Shell remained focused on a future of where demand for alternatives to petrol and diesel cars would rise.
"Shell will be part of leading the de-carbonising of the energy system. We have to accept that is the way the world is going," he said in an interview in London.
He said Shell, the world’s top roadside fuel station operator, was "working back from the customer, which is very relevant as we go through the energy transition". Britain and France have said they will ban sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, while China and India are considering such a step, putting pressure on Shell and its peers to show investors how they can make profits in a world consuming less fossil fuel.
Electric and hybrid-engine vehicles represent only a fraction of the world’s 1-billion car fleet now, but Shell forecasts it will account for about a quarter in 2040.
Other fuels, such as hydrogen and natural gas, are also expected to become more popular as drivers seek lower polluting alternatives in the shift away from petrol and diesel.
Abbott said Shell wanted about 20% of fuels offered at its forecourts by 2015 to be low carbon intensity, including biofuels, battery recharging and liquefied natural gas (LNG), which can be used to power trucks. He did not say how much business was generated by such energy alternatives now.
Shell has launched pilot projects for vehicle recharging stations in Britain, the Netherlands and California. It is also part of a scheme to develop hydrogen fuel stations in Germany.
Shell, which is betting on marketing to secure its revenues, plans to expand retail operations in China, India, Indonesia and also Mexico, where it opened its first fuel station this month, Abbott said. He did not give a timeline.
Other oil majors are following a similar tack. Rival BP has increased its focus on retail, forming joint ventures with stores such as Marks and Spencer in Britain to attract customers to its fuel station forecourts.
A sharp drop in oil prices in the past three years, during which a barrel of crude tumbled from above $100 to about $54 now, allowed Shell’s downstream activities to shine, partly because lower oil prices also mean cheaper petrol and diesel for drivers.
In the first half of 2017, Shell’s downstream activities — which covers everything from refining crude to delivering fuel at the roadside pump — generated more than $5bn in profit, about two-thirds of Shell’s total.
This was helped by a restructuring of downstream operations in recent years. Shell sold about a fifth of its refineries in the past decade, and upgraded the ones it kept while integrating their activities with the trading and marketing operations.
Shell’s marketing business alone generated $2bn in profit in the first half of 2017, up almost 40% on a year before.
"Marketing gives the group resilience because it is not dependent on crude prices so much and refining margins," Abbott said.