BP Plans New Division with Clean Energy Focus

This week, energy giant BP announced plans to make new and larger strides toward activities in the renewable energy industries. Already a major player in the solar photovoltaic field, BP now intends to double its investments in the entire umbrella of alternative and renewable energy technologies through a new division called BP Alternative Energy.

The effort, which the company says has a growth potential to deliver revenues of around $6 billion a year within the next decade, is similar to the broad clean energy campaign announced less than a year ago by General Electric called Ecomagination. GE’s own campaign focuses in a similar way by making major new investments in a broad array of clean energy technologies. GE’s strength with renewable energy is in hydro and wind power, while BP’s is with its solar energy division. Building on the success of BP Solar — which expects to hit revenues of $1 billion in 2008 — BP Alternative Energy will manage an investment program in solar, wind, hydrogen and combined-cycle-gas-turbine (CCGT) power generation, which could amount to $8 billion over the next ten years. “Consistent with our strategy, we are determined to add to the choice of available energies for a world concerned about the environment, and we believe we can do so in a way that will yield robust returns,” said BP chief executive Lord Browne. “Our recent experience, particularly with solar, has given us the expertise and confidence to develop new products and markets alongside our mainstream business. We are now at a point where we have sufficient new technologies and sound commercial opportunities within our reach to build a significant and sustainable business in alternative and renewable energy.” Browne said the first phase of investment would total some $1.8 billion over the next three years, spread over equal proportions between solar, wind, hydrogen and CCGT power generation. Investment will be made step by step, and will depend on the nature of opportunities and their profitability. “We are focusing our investment in alternatives and renewables on power generation because it accounts for over 40 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, the biggest single source. It is also the area where technology can be applied most cost-effectively to reduce emissions,” Browne said. “As the pricing of carbon develops through trading schemes and other initiatives, the market will grow rapidly as low-emission technologies displace less clean forms of power generation.” Investment in solar over the next three years is planned to boost BP’s position as a major manufacturer and supplier of photovoltaic systems. In a field where technology improvements and higher productivity are causing costs to decline, BP currently has 10 percent of the global market, which is growing at 30 percent a year, faster than any other form of renewable energy. BP currently has more than 100 MW of solar manufacturing capacity in the U.S., Spain, India and Australia, with a plan to double its capacity before the end of next year. BP recently signed a strategic joint venture to access China’s expanding solar market and provide local manufacturing capacity; it is also exploring similar opportunities elsewhere in the region. Investment in hydrogen fuels will include the world’s first commercial project — at Peterhead, in Scotland — to turn natural gas into hydrogen by stripping out carbon dioxide and pumping it into depleted oil reservoirs. The hydrogen will be used at a power station in Peterhead to generate 350 MW of ‘clean’ electricity, with the carbon dioxide re-injected into the offshore Miller field. BP is looking at a similar sequestration scheme to make hydrogen from low-value coke byproducts at a U.S. refinery that would be used to generate 500 MW at an adjacent new-build power plant. Investment projected for wind represents a significant step up in this area of power generation for BP. The company currently runs two wind farms alongside existing oil plants in the Netherlands. It also owns industrial land in open, high-wind regions of the U.S., away from residential areas, providing the possibility to build the first large-scale U.S. wind farm generating up to 200 MW in 2007. The company has identified enough U.S. sites to accommodate wind turbines with a total capacity of 2,000 MW. Projected investment in CCGT will be spent mainly in the U.S. where the company already has significant cogeneration capacity and is currently finalizing plans for a new $400 million plan at one of its major plants that will deliver 100 MW of power to the plant, and 420 MW to the local electricity grid. BP Alternative Energy will be based in Sunbury, Middlesex, and initially employ some 2,500 people around the world. It will be headed by Steve Westwell, reporting to Vivienne Cox, chief executive of BP’s Gas, Power & Renewables division.
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