Historically, oil stocks have defied the economic rules of supply and demand. They've discovered new supplies where none were supposed to exist, they've improved technology to do more with what they have, and, throughout it all, they've managed to maintain their cash cow dividend stock statuses.
In the past, alternative energy investments just haven't made sense. A recent Bloomberg article highlighted ExxonMobil Corporation's (NYSE:XOM) own solar energy research in the late 1980's, when the company concluded that solar's costliness wouldn't make it competitive until around 2012 . ExxonMobil Corporation subsequently sold its solar assets, waiting for the day when alternative energies might better compare with its oil offerings.
Around 25 years later, it seems the time has come for oil companies to be increasingly interested in alternative investments. While the solar energy market has independently expanded thanks to utilities and pure play solar corporations, oil corporations may still have a comparative advantage opportunity in another alternative energy: floating offshore wind.
Earlier this month, Norway-based Statoil ASA (NYSE:STO) received official approval to build the world's first floating wind farm off the Scottish coast .
Floating wind farms aren't a new idea, but taking them to market is. For the past six years, Statoil ASA has been analyzing and tweaking a single-turbine demo project it built off the coast of Norway . The lessons Statoil learned have helped it cut costs for this latest project by around 65 %. The new $230 million five -turbine farm will be capable of generating 30 MW of electricity, enough to power around 20,000 homes .
"Our objective with the Hywind pilot park is to demonstrate the feasibility of future commercial, utility-scale floating wind farms," said Irene Rummelhoff, Statoil's executive vice president for New Energy Solutions, in a statement. "This will further increase the global market potential for offshore wind energy, contributing to realising our ambition of profitable growth in renewable energy and other low-carbon solutions ."
Unlike many other renewable energy projects by oil corporations, this is more than a positive publicity stunt. Statoil and other offshore oil companies have a unique competitive advantage when it comes to offshore wind. No other industry has the experience or the infrastructure to float a 140 -ton metal structure 15 miles off a coastline in depths exceeding 100 meters. Statoil plans to prove that it can do just that when this project's production kicks off in 2017 .
For Statoil, this isn't an isolated initiative. In May, the corporation announced the creation of a "New Energy Solutions" business unit, a division devoted to exploring renewable energy opportunities that complement its oil and gas portfolio.
For example, Statoil recently joined forces with ExxonMobil Corporation and other oil companies to take offshore wind compatabilty to the next level. This joint-industry project is exploring the feasibility of installing floating wind turbines next to offshore oil platforms to help power their water-injection systems . Ironic or not, this symbiotic setup is a win-win for oil companies to cut extraction costs and expand their offshore wind understanding.
Statoil isn't exiting oil yet—but it's embracing its comparative advantage to explore new energy opportunities elsewhere. Projects like this one serve as smart signals to investors that diversification and progressive profit trump conservative notions that sticking with the status quo is the only way to go. Exploring offshore floating wind opportunities makes sense for Statoil and other oil companies. And if it can turn that sense into profitable projects, investors will be rewarded for their oil stocks' smart moves.
Justin Loiseau has no position in any stocks mentioned, but he does enjoy floating offshore. The Motley Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil. The Motley Fool recommends Statoil (ADR). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.