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Fossils, Utilities Buy In as Electric Cars Begin to Surge

Fossil companies and traditional utilities are beginning to take an interest in the transition to renewable energy. They’re showing it by buying into the new companies that have formed to deliver charging stations for an expected surge in electric vehicles.

After decades of dismissing EVs, “fossil fuel incumbents want in,” and “they’re investing heavily or outright acquiring electrical infrastructure needed to supply the millions of electric vehicles  expected in the next few years,” Quartz reports. “While the numbers aren’t huge yet—for example, Shell’s US$1 billion in renewable energy and EV investment amounts to just 4% of its annual capital expenditures—they’re growing fast.”

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An analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows regional differences in the way charging infrastructure is financed, with utilities and fossils operating 79% of the capacity in Europe, EV operators holding 62% in the United States, and equipment manufacturers controlling the majority of the market in China. One of Royal Dutch Shell’s big moves has been its purchase of Greenlots, an EV charging services and software start-up.

“The British-Dutch oil giant says it will use Greenlot’s technology, which combines software to optimize battery charging and grid balancing services in one charging platform, to build the ‘foundation’ of its EV business in North America,” Quartz explains. “The company is pouring about $1 billion a year into such deals, according to BNEF, including the acquisition of 30,000 charging stations in Western Europe, as well as a $31-million investment into EV charging start-up Ample in 2018.”

Meanwhile, French multinational fossil Total SA bought EV charging provider G2mobility and electricity retailer Direct Energie, as part of its plan to boost its “low-carbon energy assets” from 5% to 20% of its asset base by 2035.

“In Europe, the line between utilities and oil and gas companies is getting a bit blurry,” said BNEF analyst Colin McKerracher. “The oil and gas companies in Europe see where this stuff is going and want to ensure they are not missing out on it.”

In the U.S., meanwhile, Chevron and ExxonMobil “are just starting to edge into utilities’ traditional territory,” Quartz states. Chevron participated in a recent financing offer from charging provider ChargePoint, along with German automaker Daimler and American Electric Power, a U.S. utility. The story lists multiple U.S. utilities investing alongside automakers like BMW and Nissan, with many of them lobbying Congress to extend available tax credits for EV purchases.