The rise of renewables and energy transition: what adaptation strategy for oil companies and oil-exporting countries?

The energy landscape is changing rapidly with far-reaching implications for global energy industries and actors, including oil companies and oil-exporting countries. These rapid changes introduce uncertainty in multiple dimensions, the most important of which is the speed of transition.  While the transformation of energy systems is rapid in certain regions of the world, such as Europe, the speed of global energy transition remains uncertain. It is also difficult to define the end game (which technology will win and what the final energy mix will be), as the outcome of transition will vary across regions. A key issue facing oil companies and oil-exporting countries is how they should now position themselves and how best to be part of the renewables ‘revolution’. For oil companies, moving beyond their core business is risky, but a ‘wait-and-see’ strategy could be costly, therefore oil companies need to gradually ‘extend’ their business model and rather than a complete shift from hydrocarbons to renewables, they should aim to build an integrated portfolio which includes both hydrocarbon and low-carbon assets. The strategies designed to make this happen need to be flexible and able to evolve quickly in response to anticipated changes in the market. For oil-exporting countries, with subsidized prices and rising domestic energy consumption, there is no conflict between investing in renewables and in hydrocarbons as these countries can liberate oil and gas for export markets, improving the economics of renewables projects. In the long run, however, the main challenge for many oil exporting countries is economic diversification as it is the ultimate safeguard against the energy transition. Whether or not these countries succeed in their goal of achieving a diversified economy has implications for global energy markets and the speed of global energy transformations. In other words, the global energy transition will not only shape political and economic outcomes in oil-exporting countries, but the transformations in these major oil-exporting countries will, in turn, shape the global energy transition – adding another layer of uncertainty to the already complex phenomenon of energy transition.

By: Bassam Fattouh , Rahmat Poudineh , Rob West