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Ørsted’s ‘Black to Green’ Transition Holds Lessons for Others

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U.S. Aims for 30,000 MW of Offshore Wind as Industry Urges Faster Global Deployment

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Ørsted’s rapid transition from a state-owned coal utility to a global leader in offshore wind holds lessons for countries like India that are now looking to transform and decarbonize their energy systems, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) concludes in a new report.

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The company previously known as DONG Energy, short for Danish Oil and Natural Gas, rebranded on October 31, 2017—to the consternation of the descendants of Danish scientist Hans Christian Ørsted, to whom the name was intended as an homage. But that was just the smallest part of the transition.

“DONG had been around more than 40 years, supplying power to customers through oil, gas, and coal,” Supply Chain Dive reported shortly afterwards. “But the problems of climate change were all too evident in Denmark, where the average height of the country sits just 100 feet above sea level.”

While the shift “required a complete overhaul of the company’s supply chain, sourcing, operations, and branding,” analysts said, the timing was good—because even in 2018, offshore wind was cheaper to build than new coal or natural gas plants.

Now, the results of the company’s shift “from black to green” are showing up in the company’s bottom line.

“During Ørsted’s transition journey of more than a decade, it has created immense shareholder wealth, as its market capitalization zoomed by 314% since its listing in 2016,” said report author and IEEFA energy finance analyst Shantanu Srivastava.

Ørsted got it done with a “successfully planned transition strategy, along with transparent sustainability-related disclosures,” Srivastava added. “This is an example where an enterprise has been able to fulfill its goal of dramatic shareholder wealth creation while radically transforming its business model, something which many energy companies around the world are trying to emulate.”

That applies in countries like India, with utilities NTPC Ltd. and Tata Power onboard with a green transition, and private firms like Adani Green Energy and ReNew Power “realizing the potential of this sector and its ability to create enormous returns for its shareholders,” IEEFA says in a release. “Ørsted which has already championed the green energy transition journey, provides valuable lessons for Indian companies, which may face several of the same challenges and opportunities.”

The release lists five lessons learned by Ørsted that could apply elsewhere:

• The transition begins with a long-term strategy to phase out fossil-generated electricity and build renewables.

• A successful transition can rely on unconventional funding strategies, including selling off assets that don’t fit the long-term plan and pre-selling shares in projects under construction to raise capital.

• Cash flow from pre-existing fossil assets can be used to fund renewable energy projects—in Ørsted’s case, offshore wind farms—to minimize perceived risk for other investors.

• Investments make more sense when they’re big and wide enough to capture economies of scale.

• Sustainability disclosures have been essential for Ørsted, which earned investors’ confidence with a consistent history of reporting its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance dating back to 2017.

“Energy markets around the globe are undergoing an unprecedented transformation, with renewable energy making inroads as the energy source of the future, and climate action gaining more steam to weed out fossil-fuel based generation,” Srivastava said in the release. “This renewed focus on advancing clean energy technologies has clouded the future of conventional utilities, which have no option but to transition or face the wrath of financial markets and regulators.”

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