Are Oil Companies Moving To Renewable Energy?

The momentum behind renewable energy growth has been rapidly accelerating over the past decade. As the world wakes up to the threat of climate change, governments, corporations, and individuals are all pushing for cleaner energy solutions. The question on many minds now is: are even the world’s largest oil companies starting to get onboard with renewables?

Fossil fuel companies face increasing pressure from all sides to reduce emissions and invest in renewable energy. But transitioning a massive oil company to new forms of energy is no simple task. This article will examine whether oil giants are actually pivoting to greener options, the roadblocks they face, and what a shift to renewables could mean for the future.

Oil Companies’ Renewable Investments

In recent years, major oil companies have been increasing their investments in renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Companies like Shell, BP, and TotalEnergies have committed billions of dollars to renewable projects and acquisitions.

For example, BP set a target in 2020 to increase its annual low carbon investment to $5 billion by 2030, with renewables making up the largest share 1. The company’s activities include offshore wind farms, solar power plants, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Shell plans to spend up to $2-3 billion annually on renewables and energy solutions between 2021 and 2025 2. The company is involved in several large offshore wind projects and aims to have capacity of up to 7-9 gigawatts by 2030. Shell is also expanding its electric vehicle charging network.

major oil companies like shell and bp are investing billions in renewable energy

TotalEnergies is targeting 35 gigawatts of renewable capacity by 2025, with over $60 billion in investment during this decade 3. The company has interests in solar power plants, wind farms, and utility-scale battery storage projects.

While renewable investment is still a small percentage of these companies’ overall budgets, the growth signals a shift in strategy to adapt to changing energy markets and climate policies.

Why Oil Companies are Investing in Renewables

There are a few key reasons why many major oil companies are beginning to invest more significantly in renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

One major factor is public pressure. As climate change concerns grow globally, the public and environmental advocates have put immense pressure on oil companies to reduce emissions and invest in cleaner energy sources. There have been high-profile public protests and campaigns demanding the oil industry take more climate action. This public scrutiny has pushed oil companies to ramp up renewable investments as part of improving their public image and environmental credentials.

Additionally, government regulations are playing a role. Regulations like carbon pricing programs and emissions caps force oil companies to account for their large carbon footprints. Transitioning part of their energy investments into renewables can help oil companies lower their regulatory liabilities. Many experts cite wanting to get ahead of future regulations as a reason oil firms are proactively investing in renewables now.

Oil companies are also investing in renewables to prepare for the broader energy transition. Many analysts predict renewables will gain market share in the long-term as costs fall. Oil companies want renewable energy investments to hedge for the expected decline in oil demand over the coming decades. While oil will remain crucial for years, oil firms want to have renewable assets to maintain market share as the energy mix evolves.

Additionally, some oil companies view renewables as a profitable investment opportunity as costs decline, despite low profit margins compared to their core oil and gas activities. With the right strategy and scale, renewables offer long-term growth potential. Many oil firms hope to leverage their financial clout, engineering expertise and project management experience in renewables.

Challenges & Criticisms

There has been skepticism about the sincerity and impact of oil companies’ investments in renewable energy. Despite flashy announcements and lofty goals, renewables still represent only a tiny fraction of these companies’ massive investments in oil and gas production. For example, analysis shows that Shell used “green” messaging in 70% of its communications, while only 10% of its capital spending went towards low-carbon investments (1). Critics argue this disproportionate messaging versus action amounts to “greenwashing” – promoting an exaggerated image of environmental responsibility without substantive change.

Oil companies continue pouring the vast majority of capital – upwards of 90% or more – into fossil fuel extraction, processing, and infrastructure (2). Their renewable investments, while growing, remain miniscule at approximately 1-2% of total spending (3). Experts argue far greater investment rebalancing is needed to meaningfully transition to a low-carbon economy and energy system. With oil majors projected to invest $100-300 billion annually in oil and gas over the next decade, critics say their small renewable investments allow “business as usual” to continue despite stated climate goals.


Case Studies

Several major oil companies have made substantial investments and commitments to renewable energy in recent years. For example:

Shell has invested billions in offshore wind farms such as the 120 MW NoordzeeWind consortium off the Dutch coast and the 731.5 MW Orion project in the North Sea ( The company plans to spend $4-6 billion annually on low carbon energy including renewables and aims to become one of the largest renewable electricity producers in the next decade.

BP operates the Titan 1 wind farm in South Dakota which provides power to 110,000 homes. The company also has a 50% stake in Lightsource BP, one of the largest solar developers in Europe (

TotalEnergies has invested over $10 billion in renewable power production capacity since 2016. The company is developing several major offshore wind projects like Seagreen in Scotland and Erebus in Wales (

Expert Perspectives

Industry experts have weighed in on the increasing investments by oil companies into renewable energy sources. According to an expert from the University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, “Major oil companies realize that renewable energy, including wind and solar power, are becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuels in some regions. While their core oil and gas businesses remain profitable currently, investing selectively in renewables hedges their bets for the future and helps them navigate complex regional energy policies.”

A report from McKinsey & Company stated that “Leading oil and gas companies have begun to invest in renewable power at scale, motivated by expected growth and attractive returns… These investments allow oil and gas companies to gain capabilities in renewables while putting their capital to work in an adjacent growing industry.”

As per Alpha Sense’s 2024 energy trends report, “Investor pressure at large oil companies is playing a significant role in the material adoption of renewables like hydrogen and carbon capture. While smaller independent oil companies focus narrowly on hydrocarbons, the majors are actively transitioning their portfolios.”

The Road Ahead

Major oil companies have announced ambitious plans to increase their investments in renewable energy over the next few decades. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), oil and gas companies invested around $20 billion in clean energy in 2022, representing about 2.5% of their total capital spending (IEA). However, as the transition to clean energy accelerates, the IEA projects that oil and gas companies will need to increase their renewable investments to over 10% of total spending by 2030.

Many oil giants have set public targets for renewable energy investments by 2030 or 2050. For example, BP aims to increase its annual low carbon investments to $5 billion by 2030 and have developed 50GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030 (BP). Shell plans to invest $2-3 billion annually in renewables and energy solutions, with an ambition to distribute around 560 terawatt-hours a year in renewable power by 2030 (Shell). Equinor aims to increase investments in renewables and low carbon solutions to over 50% of total capex by 2030 (Equinor).

While these plans signal a shift, analysts say oil companies need to accelerate their transition plans to align with global climate targets like net zero emissions by 2050. The IEA estimates the oil and gas sector needs to scale up investment in clean energy to over $1 trillion by 2050 to achieve net zero (IEA). Most experts agree oil companies have a pivotal role to play in the energy transition, but their future investments must match the urgency and scale required.

Challenges Facing Renewable Growth

While renewable energy has seen tremendous growth in recent years, expanding from just a sliver of global energy production to over 26% in 2021 [1], significant challenges remain to be addressed before renewables can fully displace fossil fuels as the world’s primary energy source. Three key obstacles often cited by experts are intermittency, energy storage, and transmission infrastructure.

Intermittency refers to the variable and unpredictable nature of renewable sources like wind and solar. The sun doesn’t always shine and wind doesn’t always blow when energy is needed most. This intermittency makes it difficult to integrate large amounts of renewables into the grid while maintaining reliability. Energy storage solutions like batteries and pumped hydro can help smooth out renewable supply, but are currently limited in capacity and geographical reach.

Transmission infrastructure also poses a barrier, as many prime renewable energy sites are located far from population centers. Massive investments are needed in long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines to get offshore wind, remote solar, etc. to where energy demand is highest. However, transmitting electricity over long distances leads to energy losses.

Together, these challenges of intermittency, inadequate storage, and insufficient transmission infrastructure hinder renewable energy from reaching its full potential. Overcoming these obstacles will require continued technological innovation, policy support, and enormous capital investment to modernize energy infrastructure globally [2].

Consumer Perspectives

The public has mixed views on oil companies investing in renewables. According to a 2023 Pew Research poll, just 31% of Americans say they are ready to completely phase out the use of oil, coal and natural gas[1]. At the same time, many want oil companies to expand their renewable energy portfolios. In a 2021 poll by YouGov, 65% said oil and gas companies have an obligation to help address climate change by investing more in renewable energy.

There is support for policies that would encourage the transition. Pew found 78% favor tax incentives for energy companies to produce more renewable energy. However, the public is divided on setting a deadline to phase out oil, coal and natural gas. Just 49% support a phaseout by 2050.


Overall, there is clear evidence that major oil companies are beginning to embrace renewables and position themselves for the energy transition, though the pace and scope varies. Investments in wind, solar, biofuels, and other alternatives are rising steadily, albeit still small compared to oil and gas operations. This shift is driven by climate change policy, technology advances, cost declines in renewables, changing consumer demand, and the need to future-proof their businesses. While facing criticism as “greenwashing”, many oil firms are taking measurable steps. Their technical expertise, global scale, and financial muscle could accelerate renewables deployment. However, significant challenges remain, from organizational inertia to market distortions favoring the status quo. With sustained commitment and bold strategies, oil majors have an opportunity to reinvent themselves and play a leadership role in building the new energy economy.

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