Ouch, this one’s gotta hurt. ExxonMobil suffered a 3rd degree media burn last week, when climate-friendly activist investors managed to seat two of their candidates on the company’s board of directors. Now here comes BP to rub it in, with a new acquisition of 9 gigawatts of solar power all at once. Why, it seems like only yesterday we were measuring solar deals in megawatts, which just goes to show how quickly the global economy can begin to decarbonize, if it wants to.
BP Really Does Love Solar Power
Speaking of bad press, it’s been a long road back for BP, which got and deserved plenty of it after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. The company is also known for its previous “beyond petroleum” public relations campaign, which went over like a lead balloon.
Nevertheless, BP has been shifting gears of late. In 2017 the company sank $200 million into a 50-50 deal with the solar company Lightsource. Under the new name of Lightsource bp, Lightsource has been casting solar panels hither and yon about the US.
Recent US projects for Lightsource include a 300-megawatt coal-killing venture in Colorado that will help wean a steel mill off fossil energy.
The company has also committed to a 132-megwatt solar project in Arkansas, which may seem like small potatoes nowadays. However, it is significant because it is one of the first major solar power projects to get under way in a state formerly known for not loving clean power.
9 More Gigawatts Of Solar Power In The US Pipeline
It seems that BP is not letting the solar power grass grow under its feet. Yesterday the company reminded everybody that it has set a goal of developing 20 gigawatts of low carbon energy by 2025, and it announced a deal that brings it almost halfway towards that goal in one blow.
The deal consists of a 9-gigawatt pipeline of solar power projects under the wing of US solar developer 7x Energy.
7x has been sailing under the CleanTechnica radar, so now would be a good time to catch up. 7x bills itself as a leading utility-scale solar developer, and we’re guessing that BP was attracted by the company’s Smart Power Maps™ proprietary siting and transmission software.
“To reduce the soft costs of solar development, in 2015 7X developed Smart Power Maps™ (SPM), a geospatial software visualization platform that accelerates the site selection process,” the company explains. “With SPM, we can identify ideal greenfield sites based on dozens of factors, such as solar resource, proximity to transmission infrastructure, and topography.”
The software also helps tease out potential challenges for design and construction early in the development process.
“The speed and efficiency of SPM minimizes risks on our projects and reduces our development timeframe and costs. We pass the savings on to our customers in the form of low PPA pricing,” 7X emphasizes.
Onward & Upward For Renewable Energy
BP already had 14 gigawatts in its renewable energy pipeline before it inked the 7x deal. With the jump-up to 23 gigawatts, the company has a good chance of meeting its clean power milestones, which include 50 gigawatts by 2030.
In a press release touting the new deal, BP emphasized the bottom line basis for the deal.
“ Solar energy is the fastest growing power source in the US and is expected to quadruple over the next 10 years. It currently accounts for more than 40% of all new electricity generating capacity added in the US,” BP explained.
“In line with our strategy, we’ll aim to integrate these projects with our existing onshore and offshore wind, natural gas, and trading and shipping businesses to give customers what they want – reliable, affordable and clean energy,” added Dave Lawler, the company’s America chairman and president.
What About You, ExxonMobil?
If the BP – 7x deal seems like a clapback at ExxonMobil, it is.
ExxonMobil has been lagging far behind other legacy oil and gas companies in the road to decarbonization. Activist investors have been pressuring the company to add more renewables to its portfolio, and BP just demonstrated how easy it can be.
In fact, a large portion of BP’s new solar power projects are located right in ExxonMobil’s backyard, in Texas.
For all its roots in fossil energy, Texas emerged as a wind power leader early on, and its solar profile is also beginning to surge. As one hint of things to come, last fall the Texas grid operator ERCOT inked a deal with the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory to promote renewable energy for EV charging.
Combined with other 7x projects that are now in the Lightsource fold, BP expects the deal to provide enough clean power for the equivalent of 1.7 million US homes by 2030.
That’s not the greatest news for ExxonMobil and other gas stakeholders. Low cost renewables are already beginning to squeeze natural gas out of the US power generation market, and they are clinging to the market in gas for homes and other buildings. With public policy shifting to building electrification, ExxonMobil is in danger of losing yet another market.
BP Throws Green Hydrogen Dart At ExxonMobil
Another gas market on the way out is hydrogen. Hydrogen is a ubiquitous fuel and industrial gas. It is mainly sourced from natural gas, but not for long, because the green hydrogen field has suddenly exploded.
In an interesting twist, a green hydrogen plot is brewing in ExxonMobil’s backyard, too. Researchers and policy makers are exploring the idea of creating a regional green hydrogen hub, in Texas, which would leverage both wind and solar power assets to tease hydrogen gas from water.
BP may not necessarily be involved in that project, but the company has already exhibited an interest in green hydrogen and the tandem field of green ammonia, as well.
So, what has ExxonMobil been up to all this time? The company is fond of touting its longrunning algae biofuel research, but the timeline for climate action is growing shorter by the hour. Algae biofuel is a promising decarbonization pathway, but commercialization at scale is years in the future.
Meanwhile, the siren call of available, mature wind and solar technology beckons, and that set the stage for an upstart climate action investment firm called Engine No. 1 to seat at least two of its candidates on the ExxonMobil board last month.
It remains to be seen how much influence the new board members can exercise, but as a group they do represent a firm grounding in the oil and gas industry and a directive to transfer their fossil energy skillsets and resources onto the new clean power landscape.
In addition, Engine No. 1 succeeded by lobbying other leading ExxonMobil shareholders to its cause. Look for the investment firm to draw others into the fold as the years roll by.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: 9 gw solar power acquisition courtesy of BP.
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