Oil and gas trader Vitol and renewables investor Low Carbon announced they’re partnering on a €200 million (about $234 million) fund to invest in renewable energy generation throughout Europe.
Vitol’s commitment is the latest in a growing roster of fossil-fuel-centric companies showing confidence in clean energy through financial commitments. Among oil and gas majors, Shell has invested in solar developers like Silicon Ranch and storage company sonnen, Total has acquired energy efficiency company GreenFlex and invested in energy storage company Ionic Materials, and Engie has bought electric charging company EVBox.
It’s worth noting that much of this appetite has come from Europe, whereas U.S. oil and gas giants have been more hesitant to drop money into renewables projects.
The new fund, VLC Renewables, follows that trend. Vitol and Low Carbon are both based in Europe and the fund’s investments will initially center on that region, though the fund will be based in New Jersey.
While Vitol and Low Carbon’s fund will first focus on wind projects both on and offshore, it may later expand in scope and financial commitment. The two companies also said they would invest in projects at different stages of development. Though Vitol made the initial investment, third-party funders may later be able to contribute.
“As a major participant in Europe’s power markets and as a significant investor in energy infrastructure worldwide, Vitol is keen to build a portfolio of renewable investments to complement its existing activities,” said Simon Hale, investment director at Vitol, in a statement.
The two companies already partnered in February of last year on a £250 million (about $327 million) investment in energy storage and distributed generation in the U.K. Hale said their latest commitment indicates the potential for offshore wind to “create a platform of scale” and Vitol's belief that the company can add value to the industry.
“We see that challenge facing electricity markets, and we are also evolving our business model to adapt to this future,” he told Bloomberg.
It’s certainly a shift from Vitol’s core business. The company is the world’s largest oil trader and deals in fuels such as crude, gasoline, fuel oil and liquid natural gas. The company says it supplies 3.6 million barrels of crude and other feedstocks to global refiners every day.
Though the renewables fund represents a vote of confidence from Vitol after a "challenging year" in 2017, it's not giving up its traditional business. The company also recently announced a partnership with Peabody Energy Corp. to invest a total $20 million in a U.K.-based startup called Arq that developed a technology to turn coal into an oil product. According to the company, its investments value it over $500 million.
That partnership was also launched in the name of the diversification.
“The oil industry needs this as the energy industry becomes more diversified and competitive with renewables,” said Arq’s founder and CEO Julian McIntyre.
Vitol’s Mike Muller, who in June joined the company from Shell, said Arq's technology “provides the opportunity for refiners and fuel customers alike to diversify into a new and cost-effective source of supply."