Shell on wind, solar and hydrogen

Shell’s first love (when it comes to renewable energy investments that is) is definitely in biofuels these days but that doesn’t mean the company is abandoning wind energy and solar as was hinted in news reports in the past several weeks.

During Shell’s Eco-Marathon Americas event in Fontana, California, I was able to interview Shell Future Fuels and CO2 vice president Graeme Sweeney and he emphasized that the company’s renewable energy strategy hasn’t changed.

He said that Shell is still operating about 550 megawatt of wind energy capacity in total mostly in North America (others in Europe) while in the solar sector, Sweeney noted Shell’s continued stakes in a thin-film solar manufacturing company in Germany and in Japan-based Showa Shell which last year expanded its solar cell manufacturing capacity.

But Shell’s renewable energy investments going forward in the next year or so is definitely going to be in second generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol and algae-based biodiesel. Long-term investments right now are in hydrogen for fuel cells and in carbon capture and storage technologies.

As tweetered yesterday, Sweeney said their hydrogen station here in Santa Monica, California, is refueling hydrogen-based cars for free right now since only 6-7 fuel cell cars per day are operating in the vicinity. If you have a fuel cell car (lucky you!) get your hydrogen while its free as Shell said it will definitely charge a fee when more fuel cell cars are out on the market.

Sweeney thinks hydrogen source in the medium term will mostly come from fossil fuels so in order to have a more sustainable hydrogen production, it has to be linked to carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

Several CCS technologies worldwide are currently in demo phase right now, said Sweeney. He said that the in the demo phase, new technologies have to be worked at scale, this is where the costs have to be sorted out in order to determine whether they will be allowed to commercialized them or not.

“The public needs to accept new technologies before it can go through. These technologies, like CCS, have to go through that demo phase where you need to invest in it in order to get the cost down,” said Sweeney.

With hydrogen and fuel cell cars, Shell said it is working right now especially in California with several energy and auto companies to develop the network which enables them to test their vehicles. Right now, Sweeney said fuel cell cars are still expensive.

“What we need to do is get the cost of vehicles becomes affordable for people, we need to have a joint plan so we can have the stations and the vehicles at the same time. We’ve been working hard on that here in California,” said Sweeney.

Maybe the kids participating in Shell Eco-marathon can give them new ideas. Here’s Graeme Sweeney officially opening the event.

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