Vehicles travel on the E18 road in Oslo, Norway, on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. The International Energy Agency forecasts that global gasoline consumption has all but peaked as more efficient cars and the advent of electric vehicles from new players such as Tesla Motors Inc. halt demand growth in the next 25 years. Photographer: Fredrik Bjerknes/Bloomberg
Electric cars are expected to be a more common sight on the world's roads © Bloomberg

Royal Dutch Shell is preparing to introduce battery charging points at some European petrol stations and Total is working on a similar move as the region’s biggest oil groups react to rising sales of electric vehicles.

A selection of Shell’s filling stations in Britain and the Netherlands — the Anglo-Dutch group’s home markets — will be the first to offer the service later this year, according to John Abbott, its director of downstream business.

Total of France said it was “studying the viability” of installing charging points at some domestic filling stations. Italy’s Eni already has the facilities at some of its domestic and central European outlets.

Electric vehicles are often portrayed as a mortal threat to the oil industry because of their potential to displace the biggest source of demand for petroleum, but Mr Abbott said the transition would take decades.

In the meantime the gradually increasing number of electric cars on the road would create commercial opportunities for Shell as drivers looked for places to make the half-hour pit stops typically required, he added.

“We have a number of countries where we’re looking at having battery charging facilities,” he told the Financial Times. “If you are sitting charging your vehicle, you will want to have a coffee or something to eat.”

Shell would not say how many stations would get charging points but Mr Abbott said demand would be greatest in urban areas and he expected the UK rollout to begin “quite soon”.

The sight of “plug-in” vehicles recharging on Shell forecourts will provide further evidence of global oil groups — especially those in Europe — adapting their businesses for the shift from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy.

As well as selling sandwiches to Tesla drivers, Shell hopes to benefit more directly from growth in other petrol substitutes. The company is part of a consortium planning to build a network of 400 hydrogen filling stations in Germany and it is a partner in the world’s largest producer of sugarcane ethanol in Brazil.

“We are looking at how we can be part of the energy transition,” said Mr Abbott. “There’s not going to be one solution. Hydrogen, electric vehicles and biofuels will all have their place.”

Carmakers are ploughing huge investments into battery technology and, to a lesser extent, hydrogen-powered vehicles to meet stringent emissions rules. Debate among analysts and investors is intense over the implications for oil demand, about a quarter of which comes from passenger vehicles.

The International Energy Agency, a global advisory group, said in its latest annual outlook that the worldwide stock of electric cars would rise from 1.3m in 2015 to over 30m in 2025 and 150m in 2040. This would cut oil demand by 1.3m barrels per day by 2040, it added, a small fraction of the 96m barrels consumed per day last year.

John Leech, UK head of automotive for the KPMG consultancy, said he expected as many battery charging points as traditional filling stations in Britain around 2020. “We will start to see mass market adoption of electric vehicles early next decade, but it will take until about 2030 for them to form a majority of cars on the road,” he said.

Additional reporting by Peter Campbell

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