Written by Aryn Baker, CNN Silicon Valley bureau chief, and Viral Content Editor Jon Collins
It’s fitting that Shell took a global stage at CES to walk a “tightrope” between calling for action to end climate change and addressing investor demands for more investment in green tech and other green efforts.
The oil and gas giant announced at CES 2018 that it would double the amount of renewable energy used in its energy mix over the next few years — to 50% by 2030 — as part of a recent move to become carbon neutral. The new pledge comes as Shell’s shareholders move toward a push for the company to set clearer climate targets.
“There is an opportunity for us to make the change we think is in our own business interest as a company, but also we’ve got to get the message out there,” said Ben van Beurden, CEO of Shell.
“It’s not just one single thing, it’s a lot of different things we are doing and it’s about providing a balance between the cost and the opportunity for growing the business.”
The company announced on Sunday that the biggest part of the new “eco investment” would be the introduction of so-called hybrid gas turbines, which are powered by coal, which contributes about a third of global energy demand.
A so-called hybrid gas turbine, which are powered by coal, is part of Shell’s plan to transition to renewable energy. Credit: Richard Ramsey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
“It’s the optimal source of gas, we’ve got everything going our way on the cost, the fuel mix, the performance,” said Thor Gyldendorp, Shell’s chief technology officer.
Oil giant KBR has developed the turbines, which are both variable and rapid. They can speed up and slow down to adapt to changing energy and price conditions.
Global energy trends
The event, held at the end of the CES, is among the more explicitly political parts of the week-long industry expo. Highlighting technological solutions to tackle climate change was made all the more important by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change last month.
Asked about Shell’s comments, Van Beurden said it was important to explain the company’s position on climate change. But this was part of a broader effort, “a lot of things in our different areas around the world,” he said.
Artificial intelligence and the future of agriculture
Some of these include new investments in artificial intelligence, natural gas and the spread of electric vehicles. The latter is going to be crucial, the company says, if the planet is to keep from experiencing crippling carbon cycles as it did during the Industrial Revolution.
“This is a hard frontier for renewables,” said van Beurden.
“If you look at the market size … the market is an order of magnitude smaller,” than for electricity generation.
(The US produces about 20% of the world’s electricity — 10 million gigawatts — whereas China, which imports around 90% of its electricity, has a market of 900 gigawatts.)
The key is bringing together the two sides — China, where the industry is seeing healthy growth, and the west, which is increasingly struggling, said van Beurden.