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Shell Sees Solar as Biggest Energy Source After Exiting Industry

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By Eduard Gismatullin & Sally Bakewell – Feb 28, 2013 12:01 AM GMT

Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) says solar power, a business it abandoned four years ago, may expand into the world’s biggest source of energy in the next half century.

The proposition that photovoltaic panels will be the main power source by 2070 is one of the New Lens Scenarios Europe’s largest oil company published today in a report on energy demand this century. A second has natural gas as the main fuel by 2030.

“These scenarios show how the choices made by governments, businesses and individuals in the next few years will have a major impact on the way the future unfolds,” Chief Executive Officer Peter Voser said in a statement accompanying the report.

Shell’s solar estimate, which assumes higher energy prices, follows an industry boom that saw capacity grow to about 102 gigawatts in 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That compares with a figure of 1 gigawatt in 2000, based on figures from the International Energy Agency.

Lower costs and state support will boost solar to about 600 gigawatts in 2035, or more than 2 percent of power generation, from a small fraction in 2010, the Paris-based group has said.

Shell’s study is the longest term outlook the company has presented. The producer spent $2.3 billion on alternative energy and carbon capture and storage research in the past five years.

Energy demand may double in the next 50 years on population growth and rising living standards, according to Shell, based in The Hague. At the same time it sees “global emissions of carbon dioxide dropping to near zero by 2100” under both scenarios.

Prosperous, Volatile

The first scenario, “a more prosperous, volatile world,” projects oil demand plateauing after 2040, and wind power and carbon capture growing more slowly because of a lack of public and policy support. In the second, with more moderate economic growth, demand for oil will peak in about 2035. By the century’s end, electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles will dominate roads and there’ll be wide use of technology to trap carbon emissions.

Shell decided in 2009 to focus on biofuels in the renewable energy industry and in 2010 set up the Raizen ethanol venture with Cosan SA Industria & Comercio. In 2010, it saw the share of renewables in transport fuel doubling this decade, and since then has focused its research on biofuels made from sugar cane- farm waste after ending an algae project in Hawaii in 2011.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eduard Gismatullin in London at [email protected]; Sally Bakewell in London at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at [email protected]

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