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This is how BP plans to transform itself into a net-zero emissions company by 2050

London — BP’s flashy February rebrand left many wondering whether the oil major could make good on its promise to transform itself into a net-zero emissions company by 2050.  

CEO Bernard Looney fleshed out his plans on Tuesday, with more details on how the company will slash production of oil and gas while boosting investments in renewable energy, hydrogen and electric vehicle charging. The execution of the low-carbon future for BP, could set the company on course to lead industry efforts to address climate change.

In June, BP was ranked below Repsol and Eni when Carbon Tracker analysed the climate plans of the largest oil companies. “If we were to do our ranking now, BP has moved to the top of the pack,” said Mike Coffin, with Carbon Tracker, the not for profit climate change analyst.

Overall, BP has gone further than any oil company but there are areas of concern. Below is an assessment of the goals and how ambitious analysts and campaigners consider them.

Renewables

Develop 50GW by 2030, from 2.5GW today: Although hard to make direct comparisons with competitors, BP’s goal of 50GW is about the same level as the current installed capacity of all clean energy in the UK — a world leader in offshore wind.

“BP has been half a step behind Shell and Total in how aggressive they’ve been,” said Albert Cheung, head of analysis at BloombergNEF. “This really changes that dynamic, and it will be interesting to see who else follows.”

To meet that target, BP will need to add about 5GW from sources like wind and solar every year over the next decade. Huge projects like offshore wind farms can take up to a decade to build, meaning the firm may need to buy its way into projects that are either already operational or at least progressing in the development process.

“BP’s biggest risk is that they’ll have to target mergers and acquisitions aggressively to reach their renewables targets,” said Christyan Malek, JPMorgan Chase’s head of EMEA oil and gas.

Hydrogen

Make up 10% share of certain markets: This is a very early stage goal, with little detail yet. BP plans to identify what are ‘core markets’ for hydrogen and then make up 10% of each of them. But it's not yet clear how many of these markets will exist by 2030 or how BP plans to define them.

“The devil is in the details. The definition of a core market is subjective and ‘market share’ means different things for producers, distributors or retailers,” said Tifenn Brandily, an analyst at BNEF. “It's too soon to say if that's an ambitious target or not.”

Electric vehicle charging

Build 70,000 charging points, from 7,500 today: That many charging points installed today in Britain would make up close to 40% of the country’s entire market in 2030, according to projections from BNEF. The real effect comes from the kind of technology BP chooses to deploy.

“If it is all fast chargers it’s about 50% of all those forecast in Europe so a very noticeable share,” said Ryan Fisher, an analyst at BNEF.

“But if it’s slower chargers there are expected to be a million of those, it’s not as impressive.”

Most of the chargers will be ultra fast enabled, according to a LinkedIn post from Ashwin Shenoy, an electrification manager at BP’s advanced mobility unit working on charging networks.

Oil and gas

Reduce production by 40%; no exploration in new countries: The radical move to slash production by 40% within the next decade goes much further than any oil company to this point. Analysts at Carbon Tracker said BP would have to cut hydrocarbon production by 25% before 2040 to meet the goals set under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“Slashing oil and gas production and investing in renewable energy is what Shell and the rest of the oil industry needs to do for the world to stand a chance of meeting our global climate targets,” Mel Evans, senior climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said. “This is a necessary and encouraging start.”

BP is set to meet a majority of these reductions by simply moving it off its books. Looney said in an interview with Bloomberg TV that BP’s production cuts will come ‘predominantly through divestments.’ In the end, real reductions in the use of fossil fuels will come from the world reducing its demand for oil and gas, said Carbon Tracker’s Coffin.

Bioenergy

Produce more than 100,000 barrels a day of bioenergy, up from 22,000 today: At first blush the bioenergy target seems modest — it’s equivalent to about 7% of the company’s reduced oil and gas output in 2030, according to Coffin.

Producing biodiesel with current technology is still much more expensive than its fossil fuel cousin. So the market will need regulation in the form of mandates or carbon pricing to make it economical. In all climate scenarios that envision a clean energy future, bioenergy’s share of the mix is expected to rise so BP could revise its goals depending on what future government policy support for the alternative fuel looks like.

Emissions

Cut upstream emissions to 235-million tonnes, from 360-million tonnes today: BP’s pollution target stands out as it includes an absolute emissions goal whereas other companies set long-term climate goals based on carbon intensity. That’s a measure of carbon emissions per unit of energy produced and a number that can be easily manipulated.

By 2050, the company aims to zero out all emissions tied to the oil and gas it produces, and now it has set an interim goal of 40% reduction by 2030. There is still room for improvement, in the eyes of environmentalists at least. The plan does not include emissions linked with refinery outputs from crude oil that other companies have extracted or energy products that BP markets, such as power or gas supply agreements. On the remainder, which is as much as 640-million tonnes, the company has set a target of cutting carbon intensity in half.

BP posted the biggest earnings-day share gain in at least 10 years on Tuesday despite slashing the dividend by 50% and abandoning its progressive payout policy.

“Where is growth going forward? There’s one clear direction,” Charlie Donovan, executive director at the Centre for Climate Finance and Investment at Imperial College London and formerly head of structuring and valuation for BP’s global power business.

Bloomberg

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