Shell pressing ahead in UK with its renewable energy strategy

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Solar panels under a storm cloud.
Solar PV Rooftop under Storm Cloud. Image credit: iStock.com/WichienTep

As the second largest energy company on the planet, Royal Dutch Shell has the eyes of the world watching its every move. This is particularly the case when it comes to matters of sustainability.

When the multinational announced its intention to purchase UK utilities company FirstUtility, it was a clear signal of the way the wind was blowing. This is a company that offers all its customers 100 percent renewable energy. Clearly, renewable energy investments are as important a topic for the largest corporations as they are for the smallest private investors. This acquisition represented a way for Shell to hit the ground running with a ready-made infrastructure and client base.

Just the beginning

15 months on, the acquisition has been completed and Shell is moving into the integration phase. The FirstUtility name will be dropped and replaced by Shell Energy, and as part of the transition, all existing FirstUtility customers will be offered discounted prices on road fuels and electrical vehicle charging at the company’s vast network of fuel stations.

Shell has been quick to assure customers that their energy will still come entirely from renewable sources, including solar, wind and biofuel. The inclusion of the latter has caused some raised eyebrows due to the ongoing debate over whether it can truly be considered a renewable energy source. Part of the problem is that the very word covers so many different types of fuel, but that is a separate discussion for another day.

Other green initiatives

Shell’s eagerness to associate its name with green energy is just one part of its sustainability strategy. In its annual report, issued in the last week of March, it committed to reduce carbon emissions by two to three percent between now and 2021. Cynics and lobbyists will be quick to suggest that this is a drop in the ocean for a company like Shell, but the fact is that it is more than its main competitors like ExxonMobil and Chevron are doing.

Backing change

Shell Energy’s CEO, Colin Crooks, issued a press release in which he talked about the importance of renewable energy. He said: “We know that renewable electricity is important to [our customers] and we are delivering.” In addition, he commented that the company will be investing around $2 billion every year on its renewable and low-carbon business lines.

The annual report also provides some clear signs that this is a company that knows how to make its top management focus on what is important. It confirmed that the salaries of its 150 top managers will be directly linked to the achievement of its sustainability goals, with “immediate effect.”

The move has met with a favorable reaction from one of its investor groups, Climate Action 100+, which has been lobbying for this kind of solid and measurable commitment to sustainability for several months.

Of course, these are small initial steps, but where Shell leads, the other energy companies will inevitably follow sooner or later. The tide is turning and the renewable energy age could be closer than any of us think.