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What the Growing Ascendance of Electric Vehicles Means for Oil and Gas Stocks

As Tesla and other carmakers ramp up the number of EVs on the road, oil and gas companies are trying out a host of strategies to compensate.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are poised to run over the oil and gas industry -- at least that’s what it seems like at first glance.

By 2050, the vast majority of transport vehicles on the road across the globe are expected to be electric, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). And the transportation industry contributes roughly half of all the business for integrated oil and gas companies, which handle all three aspects of the process from exploration to production to refining, according to Giacomo Romeo, integrated oil and gas analyst with Jefferies Group.

Electric passenger vehicles such as the Tesla  (TSLA) - Get Report Model 3, Nissan’s  (NSANY)  Leaf, Hyundai’s  (HYMTF)  Kona Electric and others are expected to account for 86% of all passenger vehicles on the road by 2050, up dramatically from just 1% last year. Meanwhile, electric vans are expected to soar to 84% of all vans from 0% last year, while 79% of buses and 59% of heavy trucks will be electric, up from 2% and 0%, respectively, according to IEA’s report “Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.”

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Catalysts driving this growth in the U.S. are expected to come from car manufacturers increasing both the total number of electric vehicles and the number of models they offer, government agencies offering incentives to consumers to purchase electric vehicles and support from President Biden to increase the use of electric vehicles, according to Edmunds. The automotive research firm released a report this year that found the U.S. electric vehicle market is on track to post record sales this year, with EVs expected to represent 2.5% of U.S. vehicle sales this year, up from 1.9% in 2020.

“Price and choice of models are the biggest barriers to buying EVs for consumers,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights for Edmunds. “You always pay more for EVs and once people start shopping for a car, they start with the intent of buying an EV, but when they begin to compare they see they can get a bigger one with more features than an EV. People equate bigger with better and think it’s a nicer car and more worthy.”

Recently, consumers’ preference has swung to larger vehicles and those tend to be gas-powered. But this year, for the first time, consumers will have the option of purchasing electric trucks, which expands the consumer EV categories beyond just passenger cars and SUVs, Caldwell noted.

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By 2030, EV sales worldwide are expected to reach 31.1 million and represent approximately 32% of all new car sales, up from 2.5 million EVs sold last year, according to Deloitte Insights’ “Electric Vehicles Setting a Course for 2030” report.

However, oil and gas companies, especially Royal Dutch Shell  (RDS.A) - Get Report and British Petroleum  (BP ADR) , likely won't go the way of the dinosaurs as demand for their fossil fuels takes a deep dive, analysts say.

“I’m not sure the transportation industry will get to 100% EV,” said Jamie Hamilton, director and leader in the UK automotive sector strategy and operations for Deloitte. “Passenger cars may get there in the next five to 10 years depending on prices coming down and charging infrastructure rollouts, but freight and heavy vehicles may not” due to their weight.

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The oil and gas industry is exploring a number of workarounds to avoid the financial hit from a potential decline in oil and gas demand brought on by electric vehicles. They received a taste of what a big dip in transportation demand would look like when COVID-19 hit and people hunkered down at home versus heading into the office or traveling.

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“Most of the oil and gas industry already had an eye on the changes going on in the larger market for some time, so the growth of EVs is not a surprise. But with the decline in driving and commuting with COVID, this was more stark than people predicted,” said Kate Hardin, executive director of Deloitte Energy, Resources and Industrials research center. “That took commuting down by 40% to 50% in some communities.”

Hardin said there has been a lot of discussion among large oil and gas companies to explore new business models, such as developing solar energy, battery technology and energy storage.

Many fossil fuel companies are investing in power generation, such as renewable energy including solar and wind, Romeo said. Currently, the oil and gas industry is investing 15% of its total capital into power generation, and that is expected to increase to 25% after 2025.

However, the power generation business has returns of 10% at best, while the downstream business of refining fossil fuels has returns of 10% to 15% and the upstream business of extracting and producing the fuels about 20%, Romeo said. While the oil and gas business generally has higher returns, Rome said it is also far more volatile than the power generation business.

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Additionally, the cost of capital for the oil and gas business is higher than that for the renewables industry, due to increasing environmental, social and governance (ESG)- related concerns in the oil and gas business, and declining interest from investors.

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“There is always a balance that has to be weighed,” Romeo said.

One-Stop Shop Strategy

The larger oil and gas companies are also evaluating the design and use of their retail gas stations as consumers’ needs and behavior are expected to change.

Companies with a large network of gas stations are considering transitioning them to EV charging stations, and those that have convenience stores as part of their stations expect to make even more money off of them once they are converted. That’s because charging an EV typically takes significantly longer than filling an internal combustion engine vehicle with gas.

Companies in Europe and the U.S. actually get more revenue from their non-fuel business at their retail stations than they do from fuel, Romeo said.

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“Oil companies see [that] as people charge their cars, they will spend more time in retail stores drinking coffee, shopping for groceries,” Romeo said. “BP and Shell are already talking about this.”

However, people will also be using retail charging stations less often because they can charge their cars at home, at work or at other places that have charging stations.

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Biofuels, which are produced from organic material such as corn, other vegetables and animal fats, are another area that oil and gas companies are exploring. For the aviation industry, biofuel is currently being mixed in with traditional jet fuel, but Boeing BA, for example, plans to fly its fleet using 100% biofuel by 2030, according to Reuters.

Biofuels have high returns on investment too, Romeo noted. One company, Finland-based Neste (OTC: NTOIY), recently moved away from traditional refining to become the world’s largest renewable diesel producer, generating 30% returns compared to 12% for its traditional refining business.

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Integrated oil and gas companies, which handle all three aspects of the process including exploration, production and refining, are also investing in hydrogen and batteries. Because renewable energy sources such as solar and wind do not provide a constant stream of energy, the energy they generate needs to be stored in either hydrogen or batteries for later use.

Storing energy can be profitable since it allows companies like Shell and British Petroleum to act as energy traders that leverage supply and demand. Shell, for example, plans to increase its power trading business from 255 Terawatts per hour (TWh) now to 560TWh in 2030, Romeo said.

The battery energy storage market is expected to reach $19.7 billion by 2027, according to Fortune Business Insights. However, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the global oil and gas exploration and production market, which is expected to reach an estimated $2.1 trillion this year, according to IBISWorld.

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Potential winners in making the transition as electric vehicles eat into their fossil fuel business include Shell.

“I like Shell -- I believe they see energy transition from the right angle,” Romeo said. “They view themselves as an energy center that delivers lower-carbon energy solutions. They don’t seek to own capacity but instead, they plan to deliver de-carbonization solutions to their customers via a combination of renewable power, carbon credits, and other offsets.”

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Edmunds’ Caldwell believes the traditional oil and gas companies have some staying power, despite recent moves by states and nations to limit the sale of new gas-powered vehicles over the next several decades.

“Gas-powered vehicles are not going away overnight. The bans are on new vehicle sales and not ownership of gas-powered vehicles. I think there will be a long window for the oil and gas industries to pivot. It is not a flip of the switch and they’re gone,” Caldwell said.

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