How good are the oil companies at greenwashing?

An academic study was published this week that stated what the dogs in the street probably know — there is a big gap between the clean energy claims of the oil industry and what they are actually doing. There was a good summary of the research and some interesting commentary from the UK based Guardian newspaper.

The oil companies appear to be spending less than 1% of their capital expenditure on green initiatives. They are making claims of moving to green, but is it all simply greenwashing?

And are they even that good at it? Does their apparent incompetence in some areas risk raising accusations of cynically trying to damage alternate energy?

Let me give you an example. In the UK, the Daily Mail newspaper and the GBC talk radio station are often replete with complaints about electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. People will complain about the number of chargers available, especially for long journeys, and that even when there are chargers that they are often out of order.

I follow some UK based EV forums on Facebook, and follow some people in that industry on Twitter. I see some of the complaints from users. All of the charging providers come in for some stick, but there is one that appears to be more regularly mentioned for failing chargers. It is a network owned by an oil company.

Zap-Map is a well-known provider of an charge point search and mapping app that they claim makes EV charging simpler for users. They claim 95% mapping of public charge points in the UK. Every year, Zap-Map survey a sample of their users to find out which are the best charging networks, across a number of scores. The 2021 survey results can be found in this link. 2020 results are in this link.

I took these results and mapped out the year-over-year ranks for those firms that existed in 2019 through to 2021:

BP acquired Chargemaster, with its extensive Polar network in 2018. This type of acquisition, of an important transition infrastructure, would certainly have increased BP’s “green” credentials at the time. They rebranded as bp pulse in 2020. According to data from Zap-Maps.com, as of the 19th February, bp pulse has 3,054 public charge points which is 10.3% of the UK market. They have 777, 14.6%, of the UK’s public rapid chargers.

In January of this year, BP announced that they believed that car chargers would overtake pumps in profitability. They mention in that article that their current number of chargers is 11,000 and they would like to get to 70,000. The difference between the 11,000 number and the public Zap-Map.com statistic of 3,054 is that Chargemaster/bp pulse sold a lot of home chargers (the way that most EV owners charger their cars most of the time). Given the numbers, that is probably quite a profitable business. However, it is unlikely that you would get to 70,000 by installing a load of public chargers (there are about 30,000 in the UK now), so are the home chargers their real priority? Perhaps.

What doesn’t seem to be a priority is the public chargers. BP took a network that was 5th most popular and have managed to make it 16th most popular. That, along with continual reports of failing chargers, points to a severe underinvestment in that network.

The academic paper mentioned above suggests that oil companies do a lot of greenwashing and not a lot of real spending on green initiatives. There is a lot of oil and gas still to sell after all. Would it be terribly cynical to suggest that owning an EV network that users continually complain about would suit a company who would rather not have people buying EVs at all?

Probably.

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Stephen Redmond

Stephen Redmond

Stephen Redmond, Big Data, AI & Data Viz Professional. MSc in Data Analytics. Qlik Luminary. Author and blogger. All opinions my own.