Solar Power’s Giants Are Providing More Energy Than Big Oil

You’ve heard of Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Shell Plc, BP Plc, TotalEnergies Se, ConocoPhillips and Eni SpA?

How about Tongwei Co., GCL Technology Holdings Ltd., Xinte Energy Co., Longi Green Energy Technology Co., Trina Solar Co., JA Solar Technology Co., and Jinko Solar Co.?

If the former names are familiar giants and the latter obscure, you might want to rethink how you look at the companies that provide the world with energy. On a reasonable accounting of things, the latter are just as significant — if not more so — than the powerhouses of petroleum.

That’s a remarkable shift. Around the middle of the 20th century, the predecessors of the major international oil companies attained such power that they were nicknamed the Seven Sisters, a group of energy producers with such global scope and influence that they could make or break governments. It took a wave of nationalizations and the 1973 oil crisis to end that model. A further disruption is now waiting in the wings, thanks to the unstoppable rise of China’s solar power sector.

The best way to think about this is to consider what oil companies ultimately provide the world. It’s not really crude or natural gas, but the vital ingredient locked up in the chemical bonds of those hydrocarbons: energy.1 The manufacturers of solar equipment, similarly, aren’t in the final analysis providing us with panels of silicon and glass, but machines that can harvest power from the sun. The activities of each group of companies provide a fresh flow of useful energy to the world every year. And by many measures, the solar companies have already overtaken Big Oil.