MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s Enel aims to spend more to fund growth in clean energy and networks as it speeds up plans to reduce its carbon footprint and meet growing demand for electricity, Europe’s biggest utility said on Tuesday.
In its new business plan, Enel said it would spend 28.7 billion euros ($32 billion) through 2022 as it looks to install 4,700 megawatts of new green energy per year and cut its coal-fired electricity production capacity by 61%.
The group, which is committed to phasing out coal by 2030, said it expects renewable energy to account for 60% of its total capacity in three years, driving its carbon-free production to 68% by 2022.
“Renewables are no longer the alternative. They are the generation of the future,” Chief Executive Francesco Starace told analysts.
Enel, which controls Spain’s biggest utility Endesa, has earmarked most of its renewable energy spend to decarbonize plants in Italy, Spain and Chile while developing green power purchase schemes in Brazil and the United States.
As governments around the world introduce more stringent rules to meet climate targets, Europe’s power sector is undergoing significant change driven by a boom in renewable energy as costs fall and technology advances.
The International Energy Authority estimates that by 2040 around 70% of global electricity will be generated from green sources, four times higher than today.
“It’s all about timing. If you move earlier in the energy transition you are bound to win,” Starace said.
Enel, which has 71 million retail clients worldwide, said it was moving to a more platform-based approach to serve customers and manage assets across different countries.
“If Google and Amazon can do digital platforms, why can’t we?” Starace said.
Enel added that it would raise spending on its grid infrastructure by 7% to almost 12 billion euros.
It said it was open to mid-size acquisitions and was interested in distribution assets in Brazil, where it is the largest electricity distributor.
“Grids remain crucial enablers of energy transition,” Starace said, adding that the increasing digitalization of networks was also generating new business services.
Enel, which expects its carbon reduction strategy to drive profitability, said ordinary net profit would grow by 8.3% over the period 2019-2022, raising its 2021 target to 5.8 billion euros.
In its previous plan Enel had said it expected annual growth in ordinary net profit of around 11% in the period 2018-2021.
Credit Suisse, which confirmed its ‘Outperform’ rating on the stock, said the new 2022 target was 3.4% ahead of its estimate. “The 2022 net income target set today... could prove too conservative,” it said.
The company confirmed a payout ratio - the proportion of earnings paid out in dividends - of 70%, while promising 7.7% growth in its minimum dividend per share (DPS) to 0.4 euros in 2022.
Enel will pay investors the higher amount between the payout ratio and minimum DPS.
At 1656 GMT Enel shares were up 0.9% while the European utility sector was up 0.3%.
Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; editing by Jason Neely, Ed Osmond and Jan Harvey