Meet the clean supermajors. They have the clout and financial might of the energy behemoths that plumbed the world over for oil and gas before them. But instead of digging mines and drilling wells, they’re leading the race to electrify the global economy. These four companies—Enel, Iberdrola, NextEra Energy and Orsted—prioritized the building or buying of clean-power plants when those assets were still considered alternative and expensive. Now they’re on the cusp of a breakthrough. Ever-cheaper solar panels and wind turbines are beginning to dominate new power installations, threatening the growth of natural gas on our power grids and upending energy markets.

Electrifying the Global Economy

Note: Map shows only disclosed capacities per country
Sources: NextEra Energy, Orsted, Iberdrola, Enel

China has also shifted its biggest state-run energy companies toward renewables. In 2017, it formed China Energy Investment Corp. by merging two state-owned giants. The company has close to 40 gigawatts of renewable power generation capacity, according to BloombergNEF, more than any of the European and American majors. Coal is still a huge part of its business, with 185 gigawatts of thermal power produced in 2019. Unlike the biggest clean-energy giants in Europe, China Energy is almost entirely focused on its home market.

Renewable energy such as solar and wind can be generated without producing heat-trapping carbon dioxide. A global transition to these cleaner fuels is the only chance we have of avoiding the most catastrophic effects of climate change. An estimated $11 trillion of renewables investment will be needed in the next 30 years to make that happen, and investors want in.

Clean supermajors overtook fossil fuel giants

Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc., the world’s most valuable utility, briefly surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp. in market capitalization in early October. It wasn’t a one-off. Enel, Iberdrola and Orsted are now worth more than comparable oil majors, underscoring how mainstream clean energy bets have become for investors.

Overtaking Oil

Clean energy supermajors’ market caps have surpassed those of oil companies

The big moment has come faster than expected. Five years ago, clean power was still viewed as a tumultuous and fragmented business, crowded with upstarts trying to grab a slice of an emerging market. Some of the early juggernauts were in the midst of high-profile collapses. Today, clean energy is considered such a safe bet that pension funds and insurers are competing to own large portfolios of solar and wind farms.