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New Delhi — Shell is pushing ahead with its ambitions to grow its retail oil network in India where growth prospects look promising, while working towards expanding its footprint in the fast-growing LNG market, country chairman Nitin Prasad told S&P Global Platts in an interview.

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The country's growing energy needs has given Shell a huge opportunity to grow its presence not only in the conventional energy space, but has also opened up a window of opportunity to explore new energy initiatives, he added.

"Since 2017 we have almost doubled our retail sites in India and plan to grow further across the country," Prasad said. "India is an important country for Shell and we are increasing our business presence and penetration across retail, gas, new energies and innovation."

Shell has joined other private companies such as Reliance Industries and Nayara Energy, which are also speeding up plans to expand their presence in the retail oil sector, a segment dominated by state-run refiners.

S&P Global Platts Analytics expects India's oil demand growth to moderate to 170,000 b/d in 2019 from 190,000 b/d in 2018, as the economy slows. But growth should soon regain some momentum, as the central bank has begun to loosen up its monetary policy.

Platts Analytics expects India's oil products demand to average more than 200,000 b/d over the next few years, supported by population growth and increase in disposable personal incomes.

When Yasmine Hilton ended her assignment as the chairman of Shell companies in India in 2016, Prasad -- who was then 38 and heading the lubricant business in India -- was chosen to lead the company, making him one of the youngest oil and gas CEOs in India.

HUGE OPPORTUNITY IN LNG

Highlighting his vision for India, Prasad said Shell was keen to participate actively in the Indian gas market as it was interested to support India's growing need for cleaner fuels.

Earlier this year, Shell became 100% owner of Hazira LNG and Port venture following the acquisition of 26% equity that was held by Total. The terminal has a regasification capacity of 5 million mt/year.

"This move creates a fully owned and integrated Shell value chain -- from LNG supply to re-gas to downstream customer sales -- and enables us to better serve Indian customers and meet the country's long-term need for more and cleaner energy," Prasad said.

The entire gas marketing business for Shell India was now being consolidated under the Shell Energy India brand, he added.

"With the government of India's focus on increasing the share of natural gas to 15%, there is a clear potential for LNG," Prasad said.

India LNG import

The current share of natural gas in India's total energy basket is about 6%.

"Our initial focus is to aggregate demand from downstream customers and secure competitive international supply to meet such demand. We are further developing truck loading facility at our Hazira LNG terminal and we are keen on supplying LNG to industrial and transportation segments," he added.

India's overall gas demand is expected to grow at 6%-8% from 54 Bcm/year currently to 80-90 Bcm/year by 2025, Prasad said.

"LNG currently accounts for about 50% of India's gas consumption and is expected to grow further as the demand expansion exceeds increase in domestic production," he added.

Also in the India CEO Series

ATTRACTIVE NEW ENERGY SPACE

Shell established its New Energies business in 2016 to further its low-carbon strategy, bringing together initiatives in biofuels, hydrogen and renewable energy.

"We look forward to playing a significant role as India transitions to a cleaner energy mix. While we will continue to sell oil and gas which the society needs, we are simultaneously preparing our portfolio to move into lower-carbon energy," Prasad said.

He added that Shell has ambitions to cut the carbon intensity of the energy products they sell by around 20% by 2035 and by half by 2050.

Shell in recent years has taken equity positions in Husk Power Systems, an energy access company, and Cleantech Solar, a rooftop and open access solar player, while it continues to evaluate other options especially in the space of biofuels, Prasad said.

"The area of biofuels is an exciting opportunity and the biofuels policy introduced by the Indian government last year should help the country towards its target of increasing the share of non-fossil fuels in the energy mix," he said.

"In the medium to long term, the development of waste-based biofuels can lead to biofuels being used, not only in trucks, but also in aircraft and ships. In fact, it is yet another area where Shell is keen to invest," Prasad said.

Shell was also evaluating the profitability and challenges in India's compressed biogas market to better understand how it can participate in that segment.

"Gas remains one of our focus areas in India and we want to supplement natural gas with domestically produced gas from waste products such as food and agricultural waste in whichever capacity the Indian market allows us," he said.

Prasad added that there was a need for additional policy reforms, such as bringing oil and gas under the goods and services tax, in order to give the industry a level-playing field. "Exclusion of petroleum and natural gas from the GST is a missed opportunity."

Highlighting expectations from Narendra Modi's government in its second term in power, Prasad said access to transportation pipelines on a fair and non-discriminatory basis would enable companies like Shell with access to a global portfolio of hydrocarbons to supply customers in India at competitive rates.

-- Sambit Mohanty, sambit.mohanty@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Debiprasad Nayak, debiprasad.nayak@spglobal.com