Energy Transition, Uncertainty, and the Implications of Change in the Risk Preferences of Fossil Fuels Investors

Energy transition risk is often viewed as a long-term risk, the impacts of which will not be felt for decades to come. However, this view is an imprecise presentation of reality. This is because although completion of transition might take decades, the increased uncertainty around the transition impacts the energy markets on a much shorter time scale than the transition itself. This article presents the results of a survey of institutional investors on hurdle rates for new energy projects and compares it with information available in the public domain about discount rates on completed projects.  The survey shows that uncertainties associated with energy transition have already started to alter the risk preferences of investors in fossil fuel projects. Investors are demanding a much higher hurdle rate in order to invest in long cycle oil and coal projects. We contend that such changes in risk preferences will have several key implications for fossil fuel markets. First, the payback period of discounted investment costs is extended dis-incentivising long cycle projects, therefore concentrating upstream investment around short-term projects with shorter payback periods. Second, it impacts asset valuation of fossil fuel companies with consequences for firms’ cash flows and asset payoffs. Third, it encourages the oil and gas companies to adopt a low risk operation model, focus on the harvesting phase of their oil assets, and move away from exploration, appraisal and development. Fourth, it could affect the volume of available supplies if there is not enough investment into the sector with potential consequences on prices depending on demand projections. Fifth, it could affect the long-term price of oil when energy markets start to price in transition related risks. Sixth, the energy transition process could be accelerated as higher long-term oil prices improve the economics of alternative resources.

By: Bassam Fattouh , Rahmat Poudineh , Rob West