Ørsted’s wind power pivot: the story so far

30 July 2018 (Last Updated July 30th, 2020 22:21)

Ørsted, formerly DONG Energy, abandoned the oil and gas market in 2017, refocusing on becoming a prime player in the burgeoning global wind turbine market. Nearly a year on from the company’s big pivot, how is Ørsted adjusting to the shift, and what has it taken to re-organise its operations and start exploring new green energy-centric investments?

Ørsted’s wind power pivot: the story so far
The company has reduced carbon emissions caused by energy generation and operations by 83% since 2006 and aims to be completely carbon neutral by 2025.

It’s been more than nine months since DONG Energy sold its oil and gas business to Ineos for $1.3bn, eschewing fossil fuels in favour of leading the green energy charge. With a new name – Ørsted, after Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted – reflecting its bold pivot to renewable energy development, the company has spent the intervening months strengthening its growing position as the world’s largest offshore wind farm developer, and pursuing opportunities in clean energy technologies.

“It has never been more clear that it is indeed possible to create a world that runs entirely on green energy,” wrote Ørsted CEO Henrik Poulsen in an introductory statement to the company’s 2017 sustainability report. “It is the right time for us to send a clear message that we want to help create such a world. It will not be easy. We, at Ørsted, can only cover a corner of the total solution, but it is important that we are ready to lead the way forward and inspire others to join.”

Ørsted has established strong targets to further decarbonise its energy business, including a goal to entirely phase out coal operations by 2023, made possible through the company’s ongoing conversion of its eight Danish combined heat and power plants from coal and gas-fired technologies to multi-fuel sites that can run on biomass but have the flexibility to switch back to coal if needed. Efforts such as this have helped Ørsted increase its renewable energy share from 56% in the first quarter of 2017 to 68% in Q1 2018.

Of Ørsted’s annual investment pot of DKK15bn-DKK20bn ($2.3bn-$3.1bn), more than 85% is spent on offshore wind. It seems Ørsted is determined to prove that it can walk the walk as well as it talks the talk on greening its energy mix, but is the company also setting itself up for financial success as it explores the possibilities in offshore wind and smart energy?

Strength in wind farm numbers

Ørsted’s recent financial results indicate that the economic winds are blowing in a favourable direction for the company; its interim report for Q1 2018 noted that operating profits (EBITDA) for the period reached DKK5.5bn ($859.6m), a year-on-year increase of 68%. Poulsen announced that the company had revised its full-year EBITDA guidance by half a billion kroner to DKK12.5bn-DKK13.5bn ($1.95bn-$2.1bn).

This earnings growth has been driven, quite literally as it turns out, by wind. Ørsted’s offshore wind profits rose 51% to DKK3.2bn ($500m) in the first quarter of this year, spurred by ramped-up operations at the Walney Extension, Burbo Extension and Race Bank, as well as high wind speeds in the quarter, particularly in the UK.

Ørsted has found a second home in the UK, starting construction on the 1.2GW Hornsea Project One in January this year, with the installation of the first of 174 planned 800-tonne monopiles off the coast of Yorkshire. A final investment decision was taken last year on the 1.8GW Hornsea Project Two, with a third and fourth project also on the drawing board.

In response to media speculation, Ørsted announced in February that it is in discussions to carry out a 50% farm-down of Hornsea 1, a deal it expects to complete later this year or in 2019. This risk-spreading move echoes an identical deal in December last year, when the company divested 50% of the Borkum Riffgrund 2 offshore wind farm to Global Infrastructure Partners.

Ørsted’s global ambitions

Elsewhere, the company has secured a steady stream of international wind farm development bid wins. A strong pipeline of projects has emerged in Taiwan, having established the country as it’s Asia-Pacific hub and building on its co-ownership of the country’s first-ever commercial offshore wind farm, Formosa 1, which is due to be expanded from 8MW to 128MW in 2019.

Ørsted was awarded 900MW capacity for its sites in the Changhua region in April, and secured a further 920MW in Taiwan’s first competitive offshore wind auction, the results of which were announced in June. The projects are expected to be built between 2021 and 2025.

With 4.5GW of offshore wind capacity already installed in Europe, 1.8GW of capacity awarded in Taiwan and 1.1GW in Germany, Ørsted is well on its way to meeting its target of having 11GW-12GW of installed offshore wind capacity worldwide by 2025. The company is also looking to expand its presence in the traditionally offshore wind-averse US market, although it recently lost out on the chance to enter contract negotiations for Massachusetts’ first offshore wind farm, along with its partner Eversource, with which it shares ownership of the US-focused Bay State Wind joint venture.

“We submitted what we considered a very competitive but value-creating bid,” said Ørsted wind power CEO Martin Neubert in May of the solicitation outcome. “While we’re of course disappointed by the outcome of the 83C solicitation, the US remains a key market to us. With favourable wind and seabed conditions on the east coast, and the states’ growing interest in developing clean energy, we continue to see the US as a significant, long-term growth opportunity for Ørsted.”

Ørsted is pursuing various other offshore wind opportunities along the US east coast, with upcoming solicitations in New England and New York, as well as plans to build two 6MW turbines for the first phase of Dominion Energy’s Coastal Offshore Wind Project, with potential for this humble beginning to blossom into a 2GW commercial development partnership in years to come.

Distribution divestment and smart energy tech

More recently there has been further demonstration of Ørsted’s commitment to green energy development. At the end of June, the firm announced that it has begun “a structured process to assess the market interest in acquiring Ørsted’s Danish power distribution and residential customer businesses”. By working to sell off what is essentially the utility side of the business, it is doubling down on its upstream energy development.

“The Danish power distribution and residential customer businesses are well-run and have a high level of customer satisfaction,” the company said in a statement. “However, they are not a sales channel supporting the company’s long-term international growth in renewables. With continued significant investments in green energy in the coming years, the strategic and financial importance of the Danish power distribution and residential customer businesses will be further reduced in the coming years, compared to Ørsted’s rapidly growing international business in green energy.”

Orsted has also begun to diversify its clean energy business by getting into smart technologies that can help support a greater presence of renewables on the grid. The company has been involved in demand-side response since the DONG Energy days, with its own wind power balancing tool, hoping to enable large commercial customers to shift power loads according to wind strength.

Orsted executives have gone on record to predict a significant rise in the value of energy flexibility, and the company has partnered with energy resource management firm Open Energi to offer demand-side response services to construction manufacturer Aggregate Industries, with asset optimisation reportedly unlocking a 10% reduction in energy bills.

Commercial battery storage is a newer proposition for the company, having only started testing storage technologies in the UK and Denmark since last year. Nevertheless, it announced in April that it will build a 20MW battery storage system at the acquired Carnegie Road plant near Liverpool, UK. The project, which is expected to come online by the end of 2018, will provide grid stability management services to the UK’s National Grid as demand shifts between low and peak.

As Ørsted UK managing director Matthew Wright noted in April, the renewable revolution in which it plays a prominent role will require significant grid-level changes to balance the energy systems of the future, and investing in storage matches well with the company’s general goal to be at the forefront of a new, cleaner, smarter energy mix.

“The future energy system will be completely transformed from what it is today, with a smarter, more flexible grid, balancing supply and demand with new technology and cleaner energy generation,” Wright said. “We want to continue to be at the forefront of this exciting shift towards a decarbonised energy system.”