According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) International Energy Outlook 2019 (IEO2019), global electric power generation from renewable sources will increase more than 20% throughout the projection period (2018–2050), providing almost half of the world’s electricity generation in 2050. In that same period, global coal-fired generation will decrease 13%, representing only 22% of the generation mix in 2050. EIA projects that worldwide electricity generation will grow by 1.8% per year through 2050.
EIA projects that total world electricity generation will reach nearly 45 trillion kilowatthours (kWh) by 2050, almost 20 trillion kWh more than the 2018 level. Although growth occurs in both OECD and non-OECD regions, the growth in electricity demand in non-OECD regions far outpaces those in OECD regions. Even though electricity demand growth contributes to a region’s fuel share of generation, the scale and scope of that region’s policies provide different incentives and play an important role as well.
Throughout the projection period, some regions have high electricity demand growth, some have aggressive emission reduction policies, and some have relatively little change in both. Varying demand growth and policies across regions lead to different distribution of fuel shares for electricity generation within each region. However, the power sector’s share of generation from renewables tends to increase and the share of coal tends to decrease.
High electricity demand growth
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2019
India has the most rapid regional electricity demand growth (4.6% per year) in the IEO2019 Reference case. Although India has developed target levels for solar and wind capacity, it does not have an aggressive emissions reduction policy in place, so EIA projects coal-fired generation growth in addition to growth in solar and wind generation. Combined, solar, wind, and coal will account for 90% of India's electricity generation mix in 2050. Combined wind and solar generation increases from less than 10% of India's generation mix in 2018 to more than 50% of the generation mix in 2050. The level of coal-fired generation increases during that same time period, but coal’s share of India's electricity generation mix falls from about 75% of the mix in 2018 to less than 40% in 2050.
Aggressive emissions reductions policy
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2019
Note: OECD is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. International Energy Outlook regional definitions.
New capacity additions for renewable technologies are economically competitive with fossil technologies worldwide. But without policy incentives, growth in generation from renewable sources is limited in regions with slow demand growth. OECD Europe electricity demand is projected to grow at about 1% per year through 2050; however, EIA expects that a regional carbon dioxide cap will contribute to a reduction in fossil-fired generation and an increase in renewables generation to meet demand. Throughout the projection period, EIA expects that the share of wind and solar generation in OECD Europe will increase from 20% to almost 50% by 2050. In that same period, EIA projects that fossil-fired generation will decrease from about 37% to 18% of the generation mix. By 2050, coal-fired generation comprises only 5% of the region’s generation mix.
Low electricity demand growth/No emissions reductions policies
With annual demand growth slower than 1% and no firm policies aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the mix of generation resources in the non-OECD Europe and Eurasia region (which excludes Russia) will change only marginally. Through 2050, wind and solar generation increases marginally and accounts for less than 10% of the generation mix in 2050, leaving hydroelectric power as the main source of renewables generation for this region. Growth in natural gas generation will displace some coal-fired generation—which falls from 31% in 2018 to 15% in 2050—but the overall share of fossil generation will change relatively little throughout the projection period.
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On 10 December 2021, if all goes to plan Royal Dutch Shell will become just Shell. The energy supermajor will move its headquarters from The Hague in The Netherlands to London, UK. At least three-quarters of the company’s shareholders must vote in favour of the change at the upcoming general meeting, which has been sold by Shell as a means of simplifying its corporate structure and better return value to shareholders, as well as be ‘better positioned to seize opportunities and play a leading role in the energy transition’. In doing so, it will no longer meet Dutch conditions for ‘royal’ designation, dropping a moniker that has defined the company through decades of evolution since 1907.
But why this and why now?
There is a complex web of reasons why, some internal and some external but the ultimate reason boils down to improving growth sustainability. Royal Dutch Shell was born through the merger of Shell Transport and Trading Company (based in the UK) and Royal Dutch (based in The Netherlands) in 1907, with both companies engaging in exploration activities ranging from seashells to crude oil. Unified across international borders, Royal Dutch Shell emerged as Europe’s answer to John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire, as the race to exploit oil (and later natural gas) reserves spilled out over the world. Along the way, Royal Dutch Shell chalked up a number of achievements including establishing the iconic Brent field in the North Sea to striking the first commercial oil in Nigeria. Unlike Standard Oil which was dissolved into 34 smaller companies in 1911, Royal Dutch Shell remained intact, operating as two entities until 2005, when they were finally combined in a dual-nationality structure: incorporated in the UK, but residing in the Netherlands. This managed to satisfy the national claims both countries make on the supermajor, second only to ExxonMobil in revenue and profits but proved to be costly to maintain. In 2020, fellow Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever also ditched its dual structure, opting to be based fully out of the City of London. In that sense, Shell is following the direction of the wind, as forces in its (soon to be former) home country turn sour.
There is a specific grievance that Royal Dutch Shell has with the Dutch government, the 15% dividend tax collected for Dutch-domiciled companies. It is the reason why Unilever abandoned Rotterdam and is now the reason why Shell is abandoning The Hague. And this point is particularly existentialist for Shell, since its share prices has been battered in recent years following the industry downturn since 2015, the global pandemic and being in the crosshairs of climate change activists as an emblem of why the world’s average temperatures are going haywire. The latter has already caused the largest Dutch state pension fund ABP to stop investing in fossil fuels, thereby divesting itself of Royal Dutch Shell. This was largely a symbolic move, but as religious figures will know, symbols themselves carry much power. To combat this, Shell has done two things. First, it has positioned itself to be at the forefront of energy transition, announcing ambitious emissions reductions plans in line with its European counterparts to become carbon neutral by 2050. Second, it is looking to bump up its dividend payouts after slashing them through the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic and accelerating share buybacks to remain the bluest of blue-chip stocks. But then, earlier this year, a Dutch court ruled that Shell’s emissions targets were ‘not ambitious enough’, ordering a stricter aim within a tighter timeframe. And the 15% dividend tax remains – even though Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coalition government has been attempting to scrap it, with (it is presumed) some lobbying from Royal Dutch Shell and Unilever.
As simplistic it is to think that Shell is leaving for London believes the citizens of the Netherlands has turned its back on the company, the ultimate reason was the dividend tax. Reportedly, CEO Ben van Buerden called up Mark Rutte on Sunday informing him of the planned move. Rutte’s reaction, it is said was of dismay. And he embarked on a last-ditch effort to persuade Royal Dutch Shell to change its mind, by immediately lobbying his government’s coalition partners to back an abolition of the dividend tax. The reaction was perhaps not what he expected, with left-wing and green parties calling Shell’s threat ‘blackmail’. With democracy drawing a line, Shell decided to walk; or at least present an exit plan endorsed by its Board to be voted by shareholders. Many in the Netherlands see Shell’s exit and the loss of the moniker Royal Dutch – as a blow to national pride, especially since the country has been basking in the glow of expanded reputation as a result of post-Brexit migration of financial activities to Amsterdam from London. The UK, on the other hand, sees Shell’s decision and Unilever’s – as an endorsement of the country’s post-Brexit potential.
The move, if passed and in its initial stages, will be mainly structural, transferring the tax residence of Shell to London. Just ten top executives including van Buerden and CFO Jessica Uhl will be making the move to London. Three major arms – Projects and Technology, Global Upstream and Integrated Gas and Renewable Energies – will remain in The Hague. As will Shell’s massive physical reach on Dutch soil: the huge integrated refinery in Pernis, the biofuels hub in Rotterdam, the country’s first offshore wind farm and the mammoth Porthos carbon capture project that will funnel emissions from Rotterdam to be stored in empty North Sea gas fields. And Shell’s troubles with activists will still continue. British climate change activists are as, if not more aggressive as their Dutch counterpart, this being the country where Extinction Rebellion was born. Perhaps more of a threat is activist investor Third Point, which recently acquired a chunk of Shell shares and has been advocating splitting the company into two – a legacy business for fossil fuels and a futures-focused business for renewables.
So Shell’s business remains, even though its address has changed. In the grand scheme of things, never mind the small matter of Dutch national pride – Royal Dutch Shell’s roadmap to remain an investment icon and a major driver of energy transition will continue in its current form. This is a quibble about money or rather, tax – that will have little to no impact on Shell’s operations or on its ambitions. Royal Dutch Shell is poised to become just Shell. Different name and a different house, but the same contents. Unless, of course, Queen Elizabeth II decides to provide royal assent, in which case, Shell might one day become Royal British Shell.
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