One of the seven “Supermajor” oil companies in the world, Total S.A. is best known for its oil exploration and refinery. Active in oil production since 1924, Total was founded as the first ever French contributor to the world oil market. Over the years, Total has grown into a multinational business; today, it employs over 98,000 people in over 130 countries.
However, in recent years, Total S.A. has begun to manufacture a wide variety of power sources, including solar energy, as part of its mission to serve both the environment and the consumer. The company has stated a 20-year goal to become the world’s leading provider of renewable energy, from solar power to bioenergies, and to pioneer new technologies that will make those energy sources accessible to the common man. Total sees this ambition as the responsibility of a modern energy company; as it states on its website, “energy must adapt if it is to play a key role in addressing the complex challenges facing the world today.”
In the 1920s, the petroleum boom had hit new heights, and French Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré envisioned a French-run oil company that would measure up to its peers on the world stage. With the support of over 90 French banks and companies, Total – then known as the Compagnie Française des Pétroles (French Petroleum Company) – began discovering and producing oil in the Middle East.
Over the years, the company has grown beyond its local roots to become a major player across the globe. Total is now the worldwide leader of oil and gas production in Africa and Western Europe and maintains operation sites on every continent.
Along with its growth, the company’s focus has shifted. Total S.A.’s international influence makes the company unusually suited to taking on the environmental and ethical challenges of the modern world. As such, Total has made a commitment to developing energy solutions beyond oil and gas.
Although Total S.A. began its operations as an oil and gas company, it has since branched out into the vast new frontier of green energy, in particular, solar energy and biofuels. Total’s solar energy branch, SunPower, produces electricity for hundreds of thousands of households across the world, keeps the lights on in office buildings and commercial enterprises, and erects power plants across the globe. SunPower is involved in every step of the process, from generating solar cells to installing solar panels to building and operating solar facilities.
In addition, the company is active in the emerging field of biofuels, both in research and production. Total partners with academic researchers, private laboratories, and entrepreneurs to develop new energy technologies from natural and sustainable materials. So far, these projects have largely concentrated on the energy produced by fermentation, photosynthesis, and thermochemical conversion (the conversion of non-food biomass such as ethanol into energy by means of heat and pressure). The company has also updated the processes by which they refine oil and gas in order to reduce waste and lower the carbon footprint.
The focus on these new technologies is not only ideological but practical. Renewable energy is not only better for the environment – in a world threatened by climate change and increasingly cautious about its energy consumption, alternative energy sources are a booming market. Solar energy is estimated to be the dominant source of energy worldwide in 2050, and other green energy technologies are not far behind. Innovation in alternative energy is more than an idealistic decision for modern energy companies like Total; it is a sound business investment.