Inside BP's plan to dominate the global solar industry and rival the world's largest operators

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Well, well, well … it looks like people are finally returning from vacation.

It was a week full of news, from details on BP's strategy overhaul to Amazon's big low-carbon fund. We broke a couple of stories, too. 

With summer over, crisp, 60-degree weather swept through New York this week, animating me with spooky Halloween vibes. (My accidental pumpkin, harvested several weeks ago, is showing no signs of decay. Thanks for asking). 

Let's get to it. 

BP's plan to dominate the solar industry

"New energy, who dis?"

That might be the worst thing you've read this week, but at least it's not totally inaccurate. BP is on track to be a very different energy company by 2030, with a massive portfolio of renewables. 

In the near-term, solar power will dominate the company's clean-energy growth. 

  • Today, the oil-turning-energy giant has 16 gigawatts of solar energy in the pipeline. 
  • That's enough to rival even the world's biggest solar operator, China's State Power Investment Corp.

The plan: BP's solar ambitions are carried out through Lightsource BP, a joint venture formed in 2018 between BP and Lightsource Renewable Energy.

  • BP moves "at lightning speed," Bernard Looney, BP's CEO, told investors this week. 
  • Solar is unique among energy projects, the company said, because developers can move from concept to construction in as few as 18 months. 
  • See all the details of the company's plan to dominate solar here. 

What else: BP revealed tons of other details this week during BP Week, an annual event for analysts and investors. 

  • Oil demand is set to plateau this decade and then decline, even under a "business-as-usual" scenario, the company said. Remarkably, that's a decade earlier than the company's forecast from last year. 
  • In fact, it's possible that peak oil demand is behind us, under a scenario where governments take more aggressive action on climate change, BP said.
  • BP also revealed that its secretive commodity trading arm boosts the company's average return on investment by close to 2 percentage points. 
  • That will be key for achieving the 8-10% return on capital that BP is promising for its renewable business.

5 startups Amazon is betting on to shape a new future for energy and transportation

Amazon, which operates a major shipping business, has a mixed environmental record.

  • Earlier this year, employees put their jobs at risk to publicly criticize the company's climate practices.
  • The company provides support to oil and gas companies.

It's within that context that the tech giant announced a $2 billion low-carbon venture fund in June — one of the largest in the clean-energy industry — to help it become a net-zero emissions company by 2040. 

  • (For comparison, Apple and Facebook say they will be net-zero across their entire supply chains by 2030, though these companies aren't in the business of shipping.)

First bets: Amazon announced on Thursday the startups receiving the fund's first and highly anticipated investments.

  • There are five of them, and the technologies they deploy range from carbon-capture to electric transportation.
  • You can see profiles of all the companies here.

What else: Google said this week that by 2030 it will run its systems on carbon-free energy 24/7. 

  • That means that even if there's no solar or wind energy available at a given moment, it will still find clean electricity, such as from a big battery. 
  • It's the first major company to make such a commitment.

Singapore probes Exxon's labor practices

Exxon is facing questions from the government of Singapore about whether it misused its performance review process to cut workers after the price of oil crashed. 

  • Workers claim the company used its performance review process to mask layoffs. 
  • Some staffers in Singapore complained to the country's Ministry of Manpower, which confirmed to BI that it's looking into the company's HR practices. 

What employees say: "We are all extremely anxious and worried about our job security," said one worker. 

  • Exxon, one of Singapore's largest foreign investors, is considered a prestigious employer in the country, the employee said. 
  • Losing your job through a performance-based cut is a ding on your resume, she said, and it will make it harder to find new employment.

Exxon's response: "The performance review process provides a fair and consistent approach to managing employees with lower relative or lower absolute performance," Casey Norton, an Exxon spokesperson, said. "This is an annual process which has been in place for many years." 

Read more: Internal documents, leaked audio, and 20 insiders reveal Exxon made managers dub more employees poor performers as the oil giant sought to quietly cut staff

Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Schlumberger's treatment of some foreign workers is called into question

It was a week of Googling "10 am in New York is what time in …" 

We reported this week on claims from former Ivorian workers at the oil giant Schlumberger — supported by a trove of internal documents we reviewed — that the company stiffed them of fair severance amid its mass layoff. 

  • Former workers say the company is taking advantage of Ivory Coast's weak governance and feeble unions to pay them less. 
  • This practice is not uncommon among global corporations based in the West, according to Joe Drexler, an international labor expert and adjunct professor at the University of Denver. 

You can read the full story here.

Have a tip about Schlumberger? Reach out to me at [email protected] or shoot me a text at 646-768-1657. 

5 big stories we didn't cover

  • Oil update. "The International Energy Agency revised down its 2020 global oil demand forecast to 91.7 million barrels per day on expectations of a 'treacherous' path ahead," BI's Shalini Nagarajan reports. 
  • Another SPAC IPO. EV-charging-network startup, ChargePoint, is "nearing a deal to go public through a reverse merger with Switchback Energy Acquisition Corp," per Reuters. 
  • Big FERC move. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission passed an order this week that allows small energy sources that are distributed across the grid, such as rooftop solar panels, to participate in wholesale energy markets, per pv magazine.
  • The climate pledges keep rolling in. New Zealeand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, committed to achieving 100% renewable energy by 2030 should her party be reelected in October, per Axios. 

That's it! Have a great weekend. 

– Benji 

Ps. We left our apartments! Here are a few members of our team enjoying beverages in Prospect Park this week.

Get the latest ExxonMobil stock price here.

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