French energy giant EDF is copying a clean-energy playbook that has boosted profits for European utility peers such as Enel, company results revealed last month.
Jean-Bernard Lévy, EDF’s chairman and CEO, specifically cited renewables as helping the company bounce back after struggling with “a difficult market context” in 2017.
The company’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) climbed more than 11 percent in 2018, from €13.7 billion ($15.5 billion) to €15.3 billion ($17.3 billion). EDF met or exceeded all operational and financial targets, the company said.
The results were buoyed by the performance of EDF’s French hydro plants, which saw their highest output in 15 years. EDF’s non-hydro renewables, meanwhile, had their best year ever, with output up 14 percent over 2017.
EDF Renewables commissioned 1.6 gigawatts of new capacity during 2018, switching its focus to solar after having prioritized wind installations previously.
EDF also launched an ambitious electricity storage plan, with a goal of having 10 gigawatts of capacity worldwide by 2035.
CAP 2030 strategy
French operations played a major role in EDF’s profitability; although the company has an important footprint in Italy and the U.K., almost 74 percent 2018’s EBITDA came from regulated activities, generation and supply in France.
The group’s 2018 financial gains came despite a lackluster performance in the U.K.
EDF’s British subsidiary, EDF Energy, lost 200,000 customers, saw nuclear generation falling 7.5 percent and missed out on £69 million ($91 million) due to the suspension of capacity market payments, Reuters reported.
In contrast, EDF made gains outside Europe in Africa, Asia and Latin America, building hydro projects in Cameroon, Brazil and Myanmar. In a press release, Lévy said the rebound in EDF’s results in 2018 was “in line with our forecasts.”
The company’s performance “will not only continue but will be amplified in 2019,” he promised. A major contributor to growth was a strategy called CAP 2030, he said.
Launched in 2016, CAP 2030’s mission statement is to make EDF an efficient, responsible electricity company that champions low-carbon growth.
To do this, the company is planning to build closer links to its more than 35 million customers, install a total of 50 gigawatts of renewable generation by 2030 and triple the amount of business it does outside of France.
Nukes and renewables
CAP 2030’s focus on renewables echoes the direction being taken by other European multinational utilities. Last month, for example, the Italian energy player Enel saw its clean energy focus pay off with a 3.8 percent increase in core earnings in 2018.
The Spanish firm Iberdrola, meanwhile, said it planned to boost spending on its global networks and renewables businesses to €34 billion (almost $39 billion) as part of a four-year strategy to 2022.
And in Germany, RWE is looking to become a leading European renewable energy producer with “attractive growth potential” as part of a complex transaction underway with E.ON.
What sets EDF apart from its European peers is that its low-carbon portfolio includes one of the world’s largest nuclear fleets.
Last month, the company restated its commitment to nuclear, trumpeting a 3.7 percent rise in generation in France and claiming €3 billion ($3.4 billion) in orders through Framatome, the former Areva reactor construction division that EDF bought last year.
Bringing those orders to fruition could be challenging in the current climate for nuclear. But there are signs the troublesome European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) design that EDF has inherited from Areva could be turning a corner.
After delays and cost overruns on projects in China, Finland and France, China’s Taishan 1 became the first EPR ever to enter operation last year.
Taishan 2 in China and Olkiluoto 3 in Finland could follow suit this year, said Dr. Jonathan Cobb, senior communication officer at the World Nuclear Association. EDF is progressing with two other reactors, Flamanville 3 in France and Hinkley Point C in the U.K., he said.
“Beyond that, EDF is developing proposals for EPR 2, an optimization of the EPR design that would benefit from the experience of the existing construction,” said Cobb. “Potential deployment of the EPR 2 would include replacement nuclear capacity in France.”