Shell endorsing PV’s credentials? Sadly not.

01. March 2013 By:  Max Hall, pv magazine

Oil giant Shell has been making headlines with the release of its latest attempts to gaze into the crystal ball and predict the world’s energy mix for the decades ahead. Counter-intuitively, one of the two New Lens Scenarios’ compiled by the oil giant predicts that solar power will, eventually, become the world’s dominant source of energy, supplying almost 40% of electricity by 2060. Odd that, given the company’s decision to turn its back on renewables in 2009.

Shell logo

Is Shell performing a remarkable about-turn? Amid the impressively slick pages of the Lens Scenario document, the answer seems to be: not really, no.

Even more astonishingly, at first glance at least, of the two scenarios painted, solar comes to dominate in a world where governments are held accountable, the rush to frack and extract cheap shale gas proves an unsustainable mirage and where countries learn to get along en route to an eventual zero carbon energy mix.

So much for the "Oceans" scenario, which contrasts strongly with the "Mountains" alternative, where the world’s current elites – presumably including Shell executives – retain their grip on power, wealth inequality broadens, the CO2 global warming target is missed and the world is caught between the jaws of a new Cold War between the U.S. and China fought over Asia. For Oceans and Mountains read Utopia and Dystopia.

Is Shell performing a remarkable about-turn? A socialist mea culpa where it admits the error of its renewables policy?

Amid the impressively slick pages of the Lens Scenario document, the answer seems to be: not really, no. Indeed, delve a little deeper and the idealistic Oceans portrait centers on a world where the abundant gas deposits currently promised by Shell’s rival industries fail to materialize. As a result, oil not only remains a significant part of the energy mix, but its robust prices also open up new deposits to be exploited, with the Arctic cited as an example.

So much for the brave new world of solar. In addition, oil is still providing 70% of transport power by 2060 and it is at that point that the long-forgotten carbon capture and storage (CCS) project is revived and finally joins solar on center stage. Coincidentally, Shell is involved in a major CCS project in Alberta right now.

Investors will note, however, that in the nightmare scenario for the planet there is still a significant role for CCS technology, which should sooth nerves as gas becomes the dominant source of energy, supplanting oil in an energy mix that makes hardly any mention of renewables after the glib prediction that hopes for smart grids to solve distributed power fluctuations proved misplaced.

Far from being an unlikely endorsement of PV energy, the New Lens Scenarios document appears to be an extravagant PR attempt to discredit the dash for gas and place Shell firmly alongside "the good guys".

Nice graphics though.

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