C-Suite Asia: Retail oil push, EV infrastructure feature in Shell's India growth ambitions

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India’s sweeping reforms in the oil sector, its insatiable appetite for
fuel and an urgency to embrace new forms of energy provided Shell with the
ideal platform for growth in one of Asia’s fastest growing markets, country
CEO Nitin Prasad said last Friday.

Shell India was aiming to not only grow its retail oil network and
lubricants business, but also embrace new energy initiatives such as biofuels,
and building energy storage systems and infrastructure for electric vehicles,
Prasad said in an exclusive interview.

“We have ambitious growth goals for India and aspire to make India one of
Shell’s top markets in the coming years as we bring cleaner energy to power
the country’s progress,” Prasad said.

When Yasmine Hilton ended her assignment as the chairman of Shell
companies in India in 2016, Prasad — who was then 38 and heading the
lubricant business in India — was chosen to lead the company, making him
one of the youngest oil and gas CEOs in India.

Shell has around 100 retail fuel stations and plans to open more retail
outlets, joining other private companies such as Reliance Industries and
Nayara Energy, which are also firming up strategies to grab a share of the
retail oil market.

“We aim to expand our fuel retail network to 1,200 by 2027. India is one
of the top five growth markets for Shell lubricants globally and is on an
accelerated growth path,” Prasad said.

Regarding other energy initiatives, Prasad said that the recently
released biofuels policy had strengthened the conviction that India could
meet its goal of increasing its share of non-fossil fuels in its energy
mix.

The Indian government in May approved a new national biofuels policy that
permits the use of excess crops and a wider pool of inputs for biofuel
production. The policy includes a classification system that defines
first-, second- and third-generation biofuels and details the incentives
for producing each grade as well as the support available for domestic
crop farmers.

“The area of biofuels is an exciting opportunity in India,” Prasad said,
adding that the country had been pushing new energy sources, and that
high oil prices would accelerate this development.

“For example, accelerating the adoption of new biofuel technology and
focusing on fuel efficiency is a sustainable but long-term solution for
absorbing the impact of international price fluctuations in the Indian
context,” he said.

NEW ENERGY LANDSCAPE

Prasad said that the recently set up Shell Energy India, which would
initially focus on increasing its share in the downstream gas and LNG
business, but would eventually look at expanding as an energy marketing
and trading company.

“With the government’s focus on increasing the share of natural gas to
15% in the energy mix, we see a huge potential for LNG. It could be an
economically and environmentally viable option to provide cleaner energy
solutions, be it for transportation or powering up homes and businesses,”
he said.

In December 2017, Shell launched Shell E4, a program for startups focused
on cleaner and sustainable energy solutions. The company is also working
on solutions for energy storage systems and infrastructure for electric
vehicles.

Shell recently invested in Husk Power Systems — a mini-grid company
operating in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh — using hybrid solar
PV and biomass gasification solution to provide reliable and affordable
electricity to customers, he said.

Prasad added that the Indian government had a key role in helping Shell
further the development and deployment of a waste-to-fuel technology that
converts non-food biomass feedstock such as wood, agricultural residue,
algae, aquatic plants and cellulosic fractions of municipal waste into
fuel.

“This can prove to be a win-win solution to address India’s twin issues
of waste management and need for more and cleaner energy solutions,” he
added.

POLICY REFORMS

Highlighting the need for additional reforms, Prasad said that India’s
policy needed to ensure that more gas flowed into the power sector. In
addition, there was a need to bring oil and gas under the goods and
services tax structure.

“On a positive note, it is good to see the government’s commitment to
develop trunk pipeline infrastructure, with viability gap funding support
for expansion of the grid to the eastern part of the country, as well as
set up a gas trading hub to aid better price discovery of natural gas,”
he said.

“We also appreciate the government’s decision to deregulate fuel prices
at the retail level and look forward to oil and gas being considered for
GST,” he added.

The government recently announced that it was working on a plan to
unbundle marketing and transportation of gas in the country.

“Combined with natural gas trading hubs, the unbundling will go a long
way in developing a deep and liquid gas market in India and increase the
share of natural gas in the overall energy basket. Additionally, for gas
markets to grow, a level playing field needs to be created for all
players,” he added.

Shell was pushing some initiatives to contribute to the gas market in
India, Prasad said, adding that it was expanding its gas supply chain
through its Hazira plant.

“We have also committed to begin truck loading operations at the Hazira
terminal. Today, Shell serves a significant portion of the country’s gas
consumption through LNG,” he said.

Highlighting a joint study by Shell, The Energy Research Institute of
India, and the Centre for Energy, Environment and Water, Prasad said that
in a plausible scenario of average 6% GDP growth, primary energy demand
by 2051 was likely to reach 2,800 million mt of oil equivalent, from less
than 700 million mtoe in 2016.

“With regard to the country’s energy mix, coal has a dominant position at
58%. Around 75% of the country’s power requirements are fulfilled by
coal-based plants. This legacy is expected to maintain the dominance of
coal for next 30 years or so,” he added.

— Sambit Mohanty, sambit.mohanty@spglobal.com

— Edited by E Shailaja Nair, shailaja.nair@spglobal.com