Is Big Oil angling to serve electric vehicle drivers?

Big Oil and its allies are doing what they can to delay the day of reckoning, but it’s just a matter of time before fossil-powered vehicles join sailing ships, horse-drawn carriages and bowler hats in making the transition from necessary to nostalgic.

Above: Tesla Model S at a NewMotion charging station in Germany (Image: Charged via NewMotion)

Recognizing that they can’t beat ‘em in the end, three Europe-based oil multinationals are making preliminary moves to join ‘em, as a recent article in Energy Voice reports.

French-flagged Total has acquired electric utility Direct Énergie, apparently with an eye to selling electricity to EV drivers.

Royal Dutch Shell has been an early mover in the oil-to-electrons trend - it also bought itself a utility, UK-based First Utility. The Anglo-Dutch oiligarch has also entered the retail EV charging space, following two different strategies in parallel. Shell has acquired charging network operator NewMotion, which manages over 30,000 charging points in 25 European countries. It has also begun installing DC fast charging stations at its own branded retail locations in Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and the Philippines - Shell Recharge, operated in partnership with Allego, is now available at several London-area service stations.

Above: Oil companies are moving in on the electric vehicle charging space (Image: Energy Voice

Meanwhile, rival BP has taken several steps toward the electrified future. It recently announced the purchase of Chargemaster, which claims to be the UK’s largest charge point supplier and operator, with some 6,500 public and 30,000 residential chargers in its empire. BP has already installed over 70 charging stations at retail sites in several countries. It also recently invested $5 million in FreeWire, a manufacturer of mobile EV charging systems, and $20 million in battery developer StoreDot.

BP Chargemaster plans a speedy rollout of ultra-fast charging infrastructure, including 150 kW chargers, which could allow EV drivers to top up in 10 minutes. This could be a boon to BP’s retail business for a couple of reasons. In the UK and Europe, BP’s main retail markets, many consumers live in flats with no assigned parking spaces, so they don’t have the option of charging at home. Also, retail gas stations make little or no profit on selling fuel - drinks, snacks and ciggies are where they earn their dosh, so it makes no difference if it’s petrol or electrons bringing the punters to the forecourt.

If there’s any doubt that (European) oil majors see the writing on the garage wall, a recent statement by the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell should lay that to rest. Ben van Beurden told The Guardian that he would have no problem with moving forward the date of the UK’s proposed phase-out of internal combustion vehicles.

Above: A look at one of the first "Shell Recharge" stations in London (Youtube: fullychargedshow)

“If you would bring [the date] forward, obviously that would be welcome,” said van Beurden, adding that such a move would provide clarity and make it easier for companies like Shell to make investment decisions and shift consumer attitudes. “I think the UK will have to go at a much higher speed than the speed the rest of the world can go.”

Van Beurden noted that a lot of work will be needed to cut emissions from transport, which is now the sector with the biggest carbon footprint in the UK, since the rise of electricity from renewable sources has cut emissions from the energy sector.


Written by: Charles Morris