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Shell Ditches Wind, Solar, and Hydro 883

Posted by samzenpus
from the do-what-you-know dept.
thefickler writes "Shell has decided to end its investment in wind, solar and hydro projects because the company does not believe they are financially sound investments. Instead Shell is going to focus on carbon sequestration technologies and biofuels. Not surprisingly, and perhaps unfairly, bloggers have been quick to savage the company: 'Between Shell's decisions to stop its clean energy investments and to increase its debt load to pay for dividends, the company is solidifying an image of corporate greed over corporate responsibility.' Is Shell short sighted, or is it just a company trying to make its way in an uncertain world?"
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Shell Ditches Wind, Solar, and Hydro

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  • Corporate culture (Score:5, Insightful)

    by unlametheweak (1102159) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:17AM (#27252369)

    As a company, if they can make more money on oil than on wind, then clearly the shareholders will demand oil. Oil is there bread and butter. I wouldn't expect them to innovate on something that is outside of their corporate culture. Like with the movie and music and software industries; you get innovation and creativity from smaller independent entities, and conservativism from the established entities.

    • by theheadlessrabbit (1022587) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:50AM (#27252531) Homepage Journal

      so the big question becomes: Is Shell an oil company, or an energy company?

      while oil is currently very cheep, it's supply is limited to hundreds of years. Renewable energy is expensive now, but it will not run out for a very long time. (billions of years)

      to use a car analogy, Shell has gotten off the future express way and is driving down a dead end street. it may be a very long road, but it will come to an end.

      • by unlametheweak (1102159) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:57AM (#27252559)

        while oil is currently very cheep, it's supply is limited to hundreds of years.

        I'm not too sure about that. Regardless however, the equation remains stable: when the supply diminishes then prices increase. It's the paradox of people hunting animals to extinction; the more rare the animal the more money hunters can demand for it until there is no more left.

        Oil company's need an excuse to change into generic energy companies. By hook or by crook they'll take the path of least resistance to the highest profit margin (whether it be with oil or solar panels).

        • by rtb61 (674572) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @04:38AM (#27253051) Homepage

          In this case, Shell simply decided that's it's marketing campaign of green energy investments was promoting threatening ideas and, generating insufficient advertising benefit. Bio-fuels (starving the third world) and burying pollution underground (at the tax payers expense) were far more profitable and in harsh economic times, knows that the public will be far to worried about keeping their home, feeding their family and panicking about possible medical emergencies, that they would largely ignore the end of the clean green PR=B$. Come on did anybody seriously believe shell was interested in alternative renewable energy beyond a cynical exercise in marketing.

          The only source for funds for the development of cheap renewable energy has to be the government, there is no profit in it and the real benefits are the free benefits of a cleaner healthier environment, lower medical costs from a healthier population and of course cheap 'free' energy(beyond initial capital outlay and maintenance).

          • by LehiNephi (695428) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @07:13AM (#27253803) Journal
            You hit on the real reason in your post, even if you didn't realize it. The fact is that wind/solar power is not economically viable right now. It makes little sense for Shell to spend tons of money that it will never recover.

            Every project goes through a cost benefit analysis. Shell apparently did the analysis, and the conclusions were that investment in wind and solar are unlikely to pay for themselves, even in the long run. Or, more precisely, investments in wind and solar are unlikely to pay better than investments in oil and gas, even in the long run.

            Besides, there's nothing to prevent them from re-entering the market if the economics change.
            • by azgard (461476) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @08:07AM (#27254337)

              The problem is, the economic viability of biofuels is questionable, and carbon sequestration definitely isn't viable from physics.

              The problem isn't they chose to kill off technologies which are not promising, the problem is they chose to pursue those that are less energy efficient, if at all (and thus, unless they scam someone, less promising).

              They expect they will market them to government or something, rather than solve ecological problems. That's why its wrong.

              • by Tanktalus (794810) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @09:07AM (#27255157) Journal

                less energy efficient != less profitable. When solar, wind, etc., become more profitable than oil, Shell will be clamouring to get back in, don't worry.

                I've been saying for years that the only way to get the planet to switch to "green" technologies is to find a way to make the energy derived from them cheaper than the alternatives. Even now, the only reason we're still on coal and natural gas for generation of power is that they're cheaper politically (partially due to being the status quo) than nuclear power.

          • Re:Corporate culture (Score:5, Informative)

            by Smidge204 (605297) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @07:32AM (#27253961) Journal

            *facepalm*

            Biofuels do not "starve the third world." Nobody credible on the subject of biofuels has seriously advocated using food crops for fuel ("credible" includes those who are not obviously shills for the corn growers here). The crops that, so far, have shown the best potential for fuel sources are not only not food/feed crops, but they can be grown on land that is otherwise unsuitable for food crops.

            And maybe if we spent just a portion of our food providing efforts reforming their lands and teaching them to grow and maintain their own food, not only would they be better off in the long run but you'd create jobs where they are desperately needed.

            So enough with the "starving the third world" nonsense. There is zero credibility in that argument.
            =Smidge=

          • by aurispector (530273) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @07:35AM (#27253983)

            Demonizing their actions is stupid. Shell is a for profit corporation and it's clear they are predicting cheap oil for the foreseeable future. What they are doing is both reasonable and predictable. By their own admission the alt-energy projects weren't financially feasible. Their own stockholders can and will sue if they keep dumping money into non-starter projects.

            Stop expecting them to behave like philanthropists. The government can dump all the money it wants into economically questionable ventures - like ethanol fuel - but that doesn't mean it will ever make money or even work. The simple fact of the matter is that oil is too cheap. When companies like Shell can bank on profits from a proven alt-energy source you'll see an explosion of investment.

          • by Lord Kano (13027) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @07:54AM (#27254159) Homepage Journal

            Bio-fuels (starving the third world)

            Yeah, it's our fault that the third world is a toilet. We're not the ones who are running the regimes of their oppressive dictators. We're not the ones diverting international aid away from starving people. Yes, production of biofuels makes the cost of some food items increase. But if they'd grow their own fucking food, it wouldn't be an issue.

            LK

      • by szundi (946357) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @03:05AM (#27252591)
        To be more precise, limited to some tens of years... The cheapest kind of oil will be depleted in 10-20 years, your lifetime! :)
      • by Zocalo (252965) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @03:29AM (#27252717) Homepage

        to use a car analogy, Shell has gotten off the future express way and is driving down a dead end street. it may be a very long road, but it will come to an end.

        That's not a very good analogy really. Right now, oil is probably more representative of a highway that comes to an abrupt end in a very dry and barren desert; you know that it's going to end at some point, but you are not 100% sure quite where that it is. Alternative energy is a maze of meandering side roads and dead ends that lie to either side of the high way that represent higher short-term running costs, research that leads to economically or environmentally nonviable solutions, or equally bad dead ends as oil. Some of those roads, however, do lead to the future express way and those are the ones we have to find, but the problem is we don't really have a good map yet.

        I'd say Shell has simply decided that, right now, they need to sit out The Recession with what to them at least is a safe and financially sound proposition in the form of biofuels, by getting back onto the dead-end highway for a while. This is really just the same basic strategy being taken by all those other business that have been focusing on their core operating markets recently. At least that way they're still moving and they know that the road remains good for a while yet, and it doesn't preclude them from doing a little more exploring of the side roads later on, and there might even be some better maps by then...

        • by Colin Smith (2679) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @06:14AM (#27253503)

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EROEI [wikipedia.org]

          Oil was 100:1

          As the quality of the oil declines (e.g. to tar sands), so does the energy return (e.g. 5:1 or 3:1) and we have to spend more of our time simply trying to generate energy.

          And if 30% of our time and energy are going into producing more energy... There isn't much time and energy available to do other things, like run a civilization.

          Wind seems to average approximately 20:1 over the lifetime of a turbine.

          What is interesting is that in the short term because of our sunk investment in oil, it is more profitable for companies to produce bio-oil at 8:1 EROEI than it is to produce wind turbines or solar panels.

          • by Shakrai (717556) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @07:59AM (#27254229) Journal

            And if 30% of our time and energy are going into producing more energy... There isn't much time and energy available to do other things, like run a civilization.

            If only we had the technology to produce energy with a favorable EROEI. Maybe one day we'll be able to split the atom or something.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by aliquis (678370)

        But when the oil is out they can benefit from others investments in renewable energy and expand in that area at a lower cost.

      • Re:Corporate culture (Score:5, Interesting)

        by EdIII (1114411) * on Thursday March 19, 2009 @05:42AM (#27253341)

        so the big question becomes: Is Shell an oil company, or an energy company?

        Shell is an oil company. Hands down.

        to use a car analogy, Shell has gotten off the future express way and is driving down a dead end street. it may be a very long road, but it will come to an end.

        Now, this is where I have a problem with the vast majority of the posts on this article, including yours. Everyone is quick to make Shell out as the big bad oil company and for being shortsighted. I certainly take your comment, "future express way" and "dead end street" to mean exactly that.

        Why?

        I don't believe in Hydro, Wind, or Solar either. Not on a large scale. I think those technologies are perfect supplements. Point source implementations on single houses and small communities. It will just never scale to the point it can provide power for industry or transportation.

        Hydro, Wind, and Solar are also being researched and developed by a heck of a lot of people. New technologies and patents are being developed at a rapid pace. There is a LOT of competition here.

        Once again, Shell is an Oil Company.

        They are sticking to what they know best. That is drilling and fuel. Carbon sequestration technologies are sorely needed. We have to put it somewhere. Why not a company that has a lot of experience drilling and fraccing? Sounds like a perfect match to me.

        Biofuels are the other area that Shell has decided to concentrate on. Every time I pass one of their gas stations (note I said pass) they are always more than the competition. They have patented technology for fuel. These are people that have expertise in creating fuel. Why not have them work on new biofuels? Seems reasonable to me.

        I am practical person and just as much a pro environment as anybody else. Let's just take a deep breath and be reasonable about it. I see no reason to make Shell out as the enemy here simply because they want to concentrate solely on two areas of environmental technology.

        What they are doing is helping. So why all the hate from all the posters?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Be careful Shell : investors are not family ! Once oil will not be profitable enough, they'll take their shares back and go see a company that spent 10 years building a good solar array network... Don't think that by obeying them, you buy their loyalty.
      • by ColaMan (37550) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @04:34AM (#27253029) Homepage Journal

        Once oil will not be profitable enough....

        Oil will *always* be profitable. Especially when you're sucking the last few barrels out of 100 year old wells and selling it to a captive market who either couldn't afford to switch to something renewable or have no real alternative.

        You damn well charge what you want.

    • by mike_slashing (1162557) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @03:26AM (#27252707)
      Problem is that in a couple of years they all get fired and governments have to bail them out.. because they have overcapacity and keep working on deprecated industries (c.f today's strike in France, very much motivated by the auto industry). This shareholding story is BS. Today's boss will want to have his money&bonus today and couldn't care less about the company; if they would, they'd be visionaries... and they're not. So following the (stock)market interests may well be the establishment, but it's not an excuse. We should know better by now and should stop tolerating the establishment's behavior.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by UnixUnix (1149659)
      Back when XEROX had the personal computer technology when nobody else did, their top brass decided not to go for it because it was outside their corporate culture. "We are a xerographic company"... The rest is history :(
      • by feepness (543479) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @05:34AM (#27253301) Homepage

        Back when XEROX had the personal computer technology when nobody else did, their top brass decided not to go for it because it was outside their corporate culture. "We are a xerographic company"... The rest is history :(

        And what history is that? An incredibly rich and vibrant personal computing field? Companies stick to core competencies precisely because it is what they are good at. Leave getting good at personal computers to someone else, which someone else did.

        When large corporations reach outside their core competency, danger looms. Microsoft is a software company. They attempted to build complicated hardware and got a two-thirds RROD rate. Examples like this abound.

  • Thats ok (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Raven737 (1084619) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:23AM (#27252409)
    i think it would be bad anyway if the companies whose primary business is selling fossil fuel also controlled a large chunk of the renewable energy market.
    I mean can you say 'conflict of interests'?

    Leave it to the little guys that are better (specialized/core business) at it anyway.
    And at least now we truly know where they stand.
    • No Conflict. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Inominate (412637)

      In fact, it's logical for the oil companies to be behind any future fuels. They already have much of the infrastructure required for it, there is no way any start up can build up to that level in a reasonable amount of time.

      This isn't BIG OIL(ever notice how you can put "big" in front of any industry to make them sound evil?) killing renewable fuels, it's a business accepting that these technologies are unfeasible for them. Wind and solar are dicey at best as energy sources. Hydro is made impossible by t

  • by sakdoctor (1087155) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:25AM (#27252417) Homepage

    Controlled fusion is the next step for our species. We won't know how hard it is except for retrospectively, but we haven't got much time left.

    Nobody wants to save energy. There are billions of people on this planet that would like to use half as much energy as an average American, and no amount of wind or solar is going to deliver that.

    • No, no, no (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kestasjk (933987) * on Thursday March 19, 2009 @03:00AM (#27252569) Homepage

      "[New energy source] or bust" is a very irresponsible thing to say; we need to learn to compromise. But I'll just focus on your particular suggestion of fusion:

      • We don't know when it'll be ready: I went to a talk by one of the guys behind the JET reactor and he said 30-40 years before the first commercial reactor
      • We don't know how much it'll cost: What use will fusion be if it costs more than current power sources?
      • It isn't radiation free: The huge neutron flux it outputs makes the reactor walls highly radioactive, it produces high-level nuclear waste just like any fission plant
      • It needs tritium: Yes fusion plants can produce tritium, but this is a long process and means that even once the technology is ready it'll still be a couple of decades before we have enough tritium being generated to start up large numbers of new power plants

      Fusion is very promising, if only because it has no proliferation worries, but other than that all of the advantages that count are already available in fission reactors.

      • The power is cheap and will scale: Many European countries get the majority of their power from it
      • We have plenty of nuclear fuel: There won't ever be a nuclear fuel crisis because before we've used the enrichable uranium ore, and then reprocessed and reused all of the nuclear waste in our breeder reactors, the sun will be dead.
        Think solar is renewable? Not as renewable as nuclear.
      • It's safe: If the only reason for not going for it is an accident 30 years ago when the technology was in its infancy that's great
      • It's available now: We cannot wait for the perfect power supply. We need to change over now. We've got the fuel, the tech, the experience.
        All we need is for the public to get their heads out of their asses and learn to accept compromise.
      • Re:No, no, no (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @04:44AM (#27253069)
        Your comments on fusion are basically spot on --more or less ;)

        But your comments on Fission are out by quite a bit. First it is *not* cheap. The new reactors are costing upwards of 5billion and can be higher than 10B. That totally ignores waste management costs that are heavily controlled and fixed by government regulation. There is plenty of nuclear fuel if we reprocess and use Thorium fuel cycles. The US does not reprocess and hence on a pure U based cycle you are looking at a few 100s of years IIRC (so a few 1000s with reprocessing). Even with reprocessing 5 billion years of U fuel is not here- but thats long term planing in the extreme.

        Now the "its available now" comes with a caveat. What to do with the waste? Lets at least plan a head a little. We could develop fast reactors and/or accelerators driven reactors to reduce the waste to something quite manageable. But this kind of R&D reactor will come in the 20B+ price bracket with a 10+ year program. Quite similar to Fusion. After than you only know it can work, we still need to build the reactors.

        Personally I think we should invest R&D into both. We don't know if they will be economical. But it would be nice to have the option.
        • Re:No, no, no (Score:4, Insightful)

          by kestasjk (933987) * on Thursday March 19, 2009 @05:27AM (#27253269) Homepage

          Now the "its available now" comes with a caveat. What to do with the waste?

          Bury it. It's a relatively small problem which we can solve when we have better tech (assuming the waste won't become a commodity), we have bigger things to worry about now.

          First it is *not* cheap.

          "Cheap" is relative, and hard to work out. Should we include a portion of the potential cost of dealing with global warming into the price of a coal plant? Nuclear power, as you said, includes the cost of decommissioning and clean-up.

          Also we don't know how long these plants last. Our current generations of reactors have been able to run long past their original estimated expiry dates; when the cost of the fuel is so cheap and plants last a very long time the cost of the plant has to be taken in context.

      • Well. Two.

        NIMBY
        BANANA

        And the fact that if you say "nuclear" to some people, they do a GREAT imitation of a cat, arching their spines, hissing and spitting.

        Whoops! Sorry! That was three wasn't it?

        They'll KEEP pointing to archaic monstrosities like TMI and Chernobyl and go "BUT WHAT IF IT HAPPENS AGAIN!" until the end of time.

        Yeah, and what if it started suddenly raining knives from the sky! Think of the children!

        You simply CANNOT convince these people that it's safe and you cannot decouple "nuclear" from

      • by jonwil (467024) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @05:14AM (#27253219)

        We NEED to build the latest designs of reactors out of Europe and Asia and not the 1950s style Pressurized Water Reactors.
        We NEED to get past the fear of nuclear proliferation and allow spent nuclear fuel to be reprocessed
        If both of these things are done, it solves a lot of the current problems with nuclear power.
        Newer reactor designs (pebble bed etc) are a lot safer.
        Breeder Reactors and Reprocessing help solve the nuclear waste problem by taking all the waste currently sitting in cooling ponds and storage sites around the US and extract more energy from it. The result after waste has been reprocessed and run again and again and there is no more reprocessing that can be done to it is (IIRC) easier to store and takes less time to become totally inert than the current waste comming from existing reactors.
        New reactor designs and other modern technology can use nuclear fuel (not just Uranium) that PWRs cannot.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BikeHelmet (1437881)

      Wind is abundant all over the place. Areas where solar may be restricted due to space (such as densely packed cities with tons of skyscrapers) are the perfect locations for wind power.

      It's a well known fact that city streets act like wind tunnels. It may take a shift in construction architecture, to position wind turbines in the right spots(between buildings, up high, where the wind likes to go), but it is doable, and it'd reduce the burden on the power grid a bit.

      I'm sure someone will come and say it isn't

    • by evilviper (135110) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @04:00AM (#27252857) Journal

      It's fusion or bust ... but we haven't got much time left

      That's just plain idiotic nonsense.

      Solar power can EASILY... TRIVIALLY, provide all the power we could ever want, very inexpensively, covering a tiny amount of land area, and could be in-place very soon. There just hasn't been nearly ANY investment in it, because coal and natural gas continues to provide a quicker return on the investment.

      In fact, I suggest everyone look to west. In California, electric utilities are required to produce a large minority of their power from renewable energy, without loopholes. The ramping up to this rule has been over a decade in coming, and all attempts to overturn it have failed. Neither the people nor the politicians are blinking, this time around, unlike CARB with the electric vehicle mandate in the '90s.

      California is either going to be getting ~ 10% of their electricity from solar in the next ten years, at grid prices, or the lights across the state will go out, and stay out. The grand experiment is in place, and the stage is set. It's simply time to sink or swim. This will either prove that power companies can make solar power increasingly profitable, at grid rates (once they have no way to get out of it) or else the 7th largest economy in the world is going to stop, for lack of energy.

  • What the? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GrpA (691294) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:28AM (#27252423)

    FTA: Since biofuels frequently lead to greater emissions than either diesel or gas,

    That's not really true... Using Biodiesel can result in 75% less CO2 emissions, at the exhaust pipe.

    Some Biodiesels, eg, based on Coconut oil, are incredibly low on emissions.

    People who claim biodiesel releases more CO2 are making an argument industry wide, including the converting of existing land not used for agriculture to produce biofuels.

    Which is a little dishonest, because there are other technologies being developed that make use of badly salt-affected land to produce Biofuel. (Algae based production)

    These technologies actually improve the situation and make use of land that otherwise cannot be used at all.

    GrpA

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by kendoran (1091611)
      It is important to take the entire lifecycle into account when measuring CO2 emissions.

      While it may be true that biofuels can [potentially] result in 75% less emissions at the exhaust pipe, it's important to factor in the emissions from the process of producing, harvesting, refining, etc when making a comparison to fossil fuels. Excluding emissions from the product lifecycle when making an argument for biofuels is very misleading.
  • Devil's advocate (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dbIII (701233) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:31AM (#27252431)
    While it is unpleasant that they are cutting back on other options, putting money into carbon sequestration actually makes a lot of sense for an oil company. Apparently something similar has been done for at least a couple of decades to use injected gas to extract extra oil from wells.
  • Nuclear.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PhantomHarlock (189617) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:39AM (#27252469)

    Compared to anything mentioned, the cleanest form of energy is nuclear power, all factors considered. It's the only thing we should be looking at in the long run as a primary source of power for the grid. Wind and solar are great for local uses but not on a large scale. They are incredibly land intensive for a very small output. A nuclear power plant's physical footprint for the power it generates is practically nil.

    People just have to stop equating nuclear power with nuclear weapons, and realizing that modern reactors are far, far safer than reactors from half a century ago. Unfortunately, the United States has lost 30 or 40 years of reactor development time compared to other countries.

    As usual, radical environmentalists are their own worst enemy. They advocate alternative energy, and then jump up and down when a new solar installation is built on a fictionally endangered habitat or a wind farm causes migratory bird strikes. You can't have it all ways.

    You must find a viable replacement for fossil fuels before eliminating them or taxing them to death. Solar and wind alone are not a viable replacement at that scale.

  • flamebait (Score:5, Informative)

    by metalcup (897029) <metalcup@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:43AM (#27252495)
    The post header is a flamebait - and the mods have really screwed up for not having caught it. If you read the TFA (yes yes, I know this is /.), the article headline says "Shell dumps wind, solar and hydro power in favour of biofuels" They are saying that compared to investing in wind, solar and hydro, they want to invest in biofuel reseach, since they think it will be profitable (duh! they are a company - they exist to make a reasonable profit). The impression I got from reading the slashdot post header was that shell has decided to go completely out of alternative energy (/non fossil fuels) entirely. Posting sensationalist headlines is o.k. for mags - why do that here on /.?
    • by Jeppe Salvesen (101622) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @03:32AM (#27252735)

      We don't have enough arable land on planet earth to fully convert from oil to biofuel.

      Furthermore, it's a physical fuel that must be grown (on land, using fertilizers, pesticides and farm machinery), processed (expending energy) and then transported (expending energy).

      Biofuel is only cheap because of gullible (or corrupt) politicians.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Samschnooks (1415697)

        We don't have enough arable land on planet earth to fully convert from oil to biofuel.

        Who said anything about fully converting from oil to bio? Shell just wants to concentrate their investments on biofuel.

        We all know it's going to take a portfolio of energy sources to get away from oil and coal and we're going to eventually need some sort of replacement fuels for all of those legacy motor vehicles that will be on the road. And you just know that folks will bitch about oil based fuel disappearing off of the market over night.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:46AM (#27252513) Journal
    Personally, I am happy that they are doing this. First, Solar PV IS CURRENTLY THE MOST EXPENSIVE generator going. Solar THERMAL is a different thing. It is cheaper than coal is currently, if you do not include salt storage. They are looking at co2 sequestering. Ok. My guess is that shortly, somebody else will create a plant that uses Solar thermal for daytimes and then switches to Natural gas for cloudy/night. Mostly clean, EXCEPT for CO2. Sequester it, and things are good. The nice thing about such an approach is that it WILL lead to more AE.

    Likewise, there are MANY other companies doing hydro and wind. Their pulling out will do nothing to harm them. IOW, they will continue.

    That brings up the issue of bio-fuels. Far too many of you are thinking in terms of ethanol via corn, sugar cane, etc. That is a red herring (just like hydrogen production is). Skip that garbage and instead focus on converting crap (literally) to gas; ALGAE. There are several companies that are scaling up right now; Solix and Sapphire. Sapphire is doing gas production directly and they currently have it at less than 100/bl oil equivelence. BOTH of these companies need the price of oil to go up to around 80-85/bl and we are approaching that. These companies will likely get money from US and scale quickly. US MAY be a gas exporter within 4 years because of bio-fuels, combined with American cars moving towards electrical powering.

    Even now, I look at the dependency that EU has on Russia for Natural Gas, and how Russia has used it. Shell can help break that. Ppl just need to think big and long term.

    With that said, I am amazed that Shell, is walking away from things like hydro, and even wind. Foolish on their part. BUT, it still works out.
  • CSR (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:49AM (#27252521)

    Corporate Social Responsibility is another one of those dishonest and fraudulent business fads, flaunting secondary goal that often contradict with the primary goal of making money. When push comes to shove, guess which one would prevail. Shell is an oil company, set up to make money in oil business. Criticizing it for not being "socially responsible" (however you define it) is like berating a snake for not acting like a cow.

    You want renewable energy, set up monetary incentive for it, and be prepared to pay for it.

  • by syousef (465911) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:49AM (#27252523) Journal

    If they hadn't gotten into renewable energy, sure there would have been some good PR lost, but take a look at the backlash they're going to get now pulling out of it. The mistake was to get in if they had no staying power.

  • Bah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cervantes (612861) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @02:58AM (#27252563) Journal

    Bah, humbug.
    Does this mean we can PLEASE break up/ditch/ignore the Corn Cartel... sorry, lobbying group... which is probably the single biggest reason that biofuel is expensive and inefficient and such a bad idea?
    Although I'm unhappy to see Shells move, I can't blame them... they aren't really a R&D outfit, and other startups are taking over the role of expanding wind/hydro/solar and making it profitable. Now, if they would just dump all that money into deciding that algae (or, gasp, hemp!) is a much more efficient biofuel, and help get rid of Big Corn, then everyone could win...

  • by iamacat (583406) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @03:08AM (#27252615)

    With BP, Arco and other companies at least acknowledging in TV ads that the current 100% reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable and other solutions, along with simply using less, are a must. Shell is an awfully wealthy company and investing 1% of the money they spend on locating new oil sources would finance an awful lot of school/university projects to come up with financially viable forms of alternative energy. This investment would have more than paid for itself just on PR value.

    I have never been particularly loyal to any brand of gas, but I think I will start using the BP station 3 blocks down the road that I drive to get home anyway rather than Shell which is just at the highway exit.

  • I understand this. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by F34nor (321515) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @03:37AM (#27252761)

    Wind and solar are a load of shit. They require huge upfront costs, have low reliability, and are hard to transport. Bio fuels, esp. cellulose, TDP, and algaculture are efficient, require low or lower upfront cost and can use existing infrastructure owned by the company.

    PGE, Marlborough New Zeland, and some companies in Texas are working with algae. What is algae but the product of billions of years of technical development to be the most efficient solar power device on the planet. It is self replicating and can turn our shit into oil. It can also be used for carbon sequestration (if you burn the oil on site you can vent the exhust through the growing algea to speed up production and capture CO2.) Algae in a best case scenario can create 20,000 gallons of bio fuel per acre of land vs. 18 gallon per acre by corn. It doesn't use up the soil resources, it doesn't need chemical fertilizers created with fossil fuels, and it can per pumped around in pipelines that we already own. When combined with TDP you don't even need to worry about having the most efficient producer of oil or getting contaminated with other strains or bacteria. You can just run the system on whatever green goo grows and then render it down into shorter carbon chains. If another better strain that is more efficient comes along later just inoculate with that one. Don't fucking wait for perfection, just get going.

    Thinking you can produce a cost efficient solar system that completes with a primary biological producer shows a painful level of hubris. Want nano-tech power? Wow mother nature already does that.

  • by irober02 (1320181) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @03:42AM (#27252789)
    Scrubbing a few percent of sulfur or nitrogen oxides from flue gas is one thing but let's suppose they develop technology to scrub all the carbon dioxide -that is, the vast bulk of waste gas from combustion -aside from the (presumably) environmentally benign water. Just how much of the stuff are they going to have to deal with? Stoichiometry and Periodic Table data help here. Ideally, one tonne of carbon (Atomic Weight 12) will generate 3.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide (Molecular Weight 44). So, roughly speaking, every semi-trailer (or train) full of the back dirty stuff brought into the power plant will require four trucks or trains to carry the waste away! Probably more due to the difficulties of bulk-handling compressed gases. Since we need to store the stuff safely for geological time-spans we also need to consider the volume of the waste collected. One cubic metre of coal will generate perhaps 5000 cubic metres of carbon dioxide at room temperature and pressure. (There's some uncertainty about just how much coal is in a cubic metre. It's not likely to be a solid lump but if it was, there would be 3.6 tonnes. Powdered coal would be somewhat less dense but you get the idea.) That's a lot of champagne bubbles! Obviously the waste gas, once collected, is going to need to be compressed and refrigerated to make the handling challenge more manageable but more energy will be needed for that. The Lake Nyos burp disaster killed 1700 Cameroonians in 1986, so large depositories of carbon dioxide are not to be trifled with. Carbon sequestration is just camouflage for corporate dinosaurs.
  • by bestalexguy (959961) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @03:49AM (#27252809)
    Clean energy is just PR bullbyproduct for oil companies. As long as going clean isn't enforced, they are willing to spend a tiny % of their budget to look nicer to the public. But the USA will change their attitude towards the Kyoto protocol, this is going to cost money, so the PR party is over.
  • by Dan B. (20610) <slashdotNO@SPAMbryar.com.au> on Thursday March 19, 2009 @03:59AM (#27252849) Homepage

    There is more free, clean energy in hot rocks 3-5km below the surface than all coal, oil and nuclear fuel combined. It cost nothing to extract other than the initial capital investment, and produces no harmful by-products other than the electricity that you an I take for granted in this modern age.

    A bit more research money toward the economic construction of geothermal plants would see us free of fossil and nuclear fuel for the foreseeable future, and that is many, many generations of our species.

  • Buy the start-ups (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jbatista (1205630) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @04:53AM (#27253113)

    I wouldn't be suprised if Shell (or other oil companies) would opt to do this. They gather the money now so they can buy those renewable-energy start-up companies AFTER they've proven SUCCESSFUL (i.e. let the weaklings die, then invite the survival-tried to join the gang).

  • religion (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CAIMLAS (41445) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @05:18AM (#27253235) Homepage

    Its simple: eco-friendly is the new god to many. They see it as heresy to even suggest 'green' fuels aren't green, or aren't a better-than-break-even venture. Like most religious zealots, facts or reality mean nothing if those facts interfere with their faith or first beliefs. Simply put, logic be damned. (This is why we've got 'green terrorists' burning down SUV dealerships.)

    Oh, also, it's plainly obvious why Shell is doing what they're doing. Large companies are not well suited for persuing emerging trends, or for that matter, quick-and-dirty R&D. This is particularly true during a recession/depression, when they've got to be careful to not be capsized utterly. On the flip side of things, this is why small R&D, and 'start ups' in general, tend to flourish during hard economic times (as Apple, MS, etc. did during the late-70s/early-80s): the big dogs are slow to maneuver due to a tightening belt, and are more risk/challenge averse.

    If history can be any indication, some small start-ups will invent/discover the "next big thing" in terms of 'renewable' energy.

  • by Amigori (177092) <eefranklin718@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday March 19, 2009 @05:40AM (#27253337) Homepage

    Seriously, they are an oil company in the business of producing and refining crude oil, for a profit. That's what their entire infrastructure is built around. Thousands of miles of pipe, thousands of service stations, thousands of by-products and oil-derivatives, sea and land tanker fleets, claims to reserves, geological surveys, exploration, oil derricks, off-shore platforms, thousands of scientists, geeks, tradesmen, and explorers, and so on. None of which correlate well to Wind, Solar, or Hydro. Yes, you can use oil products to generate electricity, but Shell wants to deliver the fuel, not run the power plant.

    Now that the price of crude oil has settled back to where the market dictates, instead of speculators, Shell is making far less money (along with every company/country in that sector). This isn't much more than a belt tightening and cutting projects that are not contributing to the core business.

    Again, they're an oil company trying to profit. The world doesn't run on good intentions, well wishes, and fairy dust. It does run on money and oil though.

    I think the other technologies show lots of promise, especially solar, but let someone who specializes in it do it. I am a realist and understand that its going to take a combination of everything to get us to whatever is next.

  • Patent troll? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrKaos (858439) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @06:18AM (#27253525) Journal
    It seems appropriate that Shell could make a significant achievements in the area of carbon sequestration with their existing industrial experience.

    The only thing that concerns me is if they will use patents collected through their body of research into solar, wind and hydro to block technology developments and deployments creating the same sort of patent mess that is interfering with innovation in the information technology industry.

  • by An dochasac (591582) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @06:23AM (#27253555)
    A typical 1000 Megawatt coal powerplant such as the behemoth ERGs [washingtonpost.com] boondoggle just being completed in SE Wisconsin requires 1215 train carloads of Coal (Carbon) every day. Once burned, each carbon molocule (Atomic Weight 12) will have two Oxygen Molecules (Atomic Weight 16) attached to it and this 'refuse' to be sequestured will weigh 3.67 times as much. All else being equal, this means you would need 4459 boxcars full of carbon junk leaving the power plant. But CO2 can't easily be compressed into boxcars so it is likely the carbon will be sequestered with calcium or silicon (in rock), and weigh much more. And Shell thinks this is cheaper than solar, wind and hydropower? Have I missed April fools day or is someone playing a shell game?
  • by some old guy (674482) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @06:45AM (#27253679)

    I worked for BP's orphan photo-voltaics lab in Toano, Virginia long enough for us to be featured in their big "Beyond Petroleum" advertising blitz...and then poof! they pulled the plug. Although we were doing first-rate science and pilot production of amorphous silicon PV cells, we were left with the impression that we were merely a "green" marketing asset left over from the Amoco merger.

    We supplied the green paint, then they threw away the brush. So goes the oil business.

For every bloke who makes his mark, there's half a dozen waiting to rub it out. -- Andy Capp

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