After two years of drawing up and explaining BP's roadmap for navigating the energy transition while keeping investors onside, chief executive Bernard Looney has now stated the focus has shifted unequivocally to “delivery”.

Looney, 52, took the BP helm in early 2020 and has set a course for the most far-reaching overhaul in the UK supermajor's 112-year history, promising greater investment in renewables and lower carbon energy while cutting oil and gas production and to hit net zero carbon emissions by mid-century.

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Among the new pledges unveiled at BP's fourth-quarter results this week was that 50% of group capital spending by 2030 would be on lower carbon “transition growth businesses”, rising from 40% in 2025.

These growth businesses are renewables — both wind and solar — hydrogen, bioenergy, and BP's fuels and retail business, called convenience and mobility, which includes electric vehicle charging.

BP's total annual capital budget is planned to be $14 billion to $16 billion until 2025.

Capital spending on offshore wind and hydrogen, which BP terms “low carbon energy”, was $1.6 billion in 2021 and is expected to increase to between $3 billion and $5 billion per year by 2025, rising to $4 billion to $6 billion per year by 2030.

Lower carbon earnings by 2030

The transition areas are expected to generate annual earnings of $9 billion to $10 billion by the end of the decade, with wind, solar and hydrogen delivering between $2 billion and $3 billion of this total.

While shareholders are conscious the lower carbon businesses are immature and will remain in growth mode for many years to come, many are questioning if they can ever deliver similar returns to hydrocarbons.

As a comparison, by 2030, oil and gas operations are expected to be generating $30 billion in annual earnings, even on 40% lower production.

Speaking to City analysts at BP’s London headquarters, Looney repeated his new mantra that BP will “perform as we transform” from an “international oil company to an integrated energy company”.

“I think we have already made significant progress on this transformation,” he said.

“If we look back, year one (2020), we set out a new direction, a new purpose, a new ambition, a new strategy, a new financial framework, a new sustainability framework and a new leadership team. That is now done.

“Year two, 2021, was about change, and the largest restructuring in our company's history so that we are organised to deliver. That is now done, completed.

“With all of this now behind us, the decks are clear. Year three and every year from now on is focussed on one thing and one thing only – delivery.”

'New wave'

Looney said BP is establishing a “new wave” of solar, offshore wind and hydrogen schemes.

As part of his presentation, these were set out on a chart that he compared to the oil and gas major-projects lists that one would have expected to see at results briefings before the pandemic.

BP has already quadrupled its pipeline of renewables development projects since the end of 2019, from 6GW to 24.5GW.

By the end of 2021, it had developed some 4.4GW of renewable power capacity to the final-investment-decision stage, and it is on track to develop 20GW by 2025, with an objective of reaching 50GW by 2030.

'Real progress'

Looney said BP has made "real progress" in enlarging its pipeline of future offshore wind projects to a net 5.2GW gigawatts, located in two core markets — the US, where it is a partner of Norwegian state-controlled energy giant Equnior, and in the UK, where it is a partner of ENBW and where it also had success in the recent ScotWind leasing round.

In solar, BP has increased its future projects pipeline from 1.6GW when it first invested in its Lightsource BP business in 2017 to 20.6GW today and has progressed 53 projects to a final investment decision.

Trying to reassure those wary investors, Looney said he is confident these can achieve returns of 8% to 10%.

Hopper of hydrogen projects

In hydrogen, BP hopes to build on the company’s traditional oil and gas refining expertise and infrastructure to create regionally focused supply hubs, with an aim of capturing a 10% share of the developing global market by 2030.

Its hopper of hydrogen projects now has a combined capacity of 700,000 tonnes per annum, including the H2 Teesside scheme in the UK, the Lingen project in Germany and a scheme in Oman. It has the potential to grow to 1.3 million tpa, Looney said.

Hydrogen projects also enable additional value creation through the integration with renewables and carbon capture and storage projects, he noted.

“Our capital investment in these businesses is growing,” said Looney.

"We're rigorous in evaluating opportunities, rejecting a lot and selecting only what we see as the very best projects. And this momentum and this discipline gives us confidence in the quality of the business we are building,” he said.

Oil and gas investment and returns

For the time being, however, investment in, and earnings from, the company’s traditional oil gas business are set to remain huge in comparison.

BP expects to keep earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation from hydrocarbons at about $33 billion for the next three years and in a range of $30 billion to $35 billion to 2030 – even while oil and gas production declines by about 1 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, or 40%, from 2019 levels as it “high-grades” operations to ensure they are as efficient and profitable as possible.

BP last year produced about 3.3 million boepd.

Looney said BP spent more than a century building up energy value chains consisting of upstream and downstream businesses supported by a big trading operation.

It now plans to replicate this model in renewables and hydrogen businesses as it decarbonises its business.

“We are one of the few companies who have the scale and the expertise and the experience to navigate complex markets and who can help manage increasingly interconnected energy systems,” he said.