This 184-Year-Old French Power Giant Wants to Lower Bills

(Bloomberg) -- The energy industry has long been predicated on selling more and more fuel to an increasingly power-hungry world. France’s Engie SA is betting its future on the opposite tack.

The power and gas giant that supplied coal that fueled the French Industrial Revolution and excavated the Suez Canal now sees its greatest potential for growth in helping large energy users like hospitals, schools and airports reduce their bills and carbon emissions, Isabelle Kocher, Engie’s chief executive officer, said in an interview in Singapore.

This 184-Year-Old French Power Giant Wants to Lower Bills

Engie’s push for efficiency aligns it with demands in developed countries, where total energy use peaked in 2007 and has since fallen to levels not seen since the 1990s, according to the International Energy Agency. The company is increasingly targeting deals like one it signed with Ohio State University in the U.S. last year, where it makes more money if it meets energy-reduction goals, Kocher said.

“More and more we do that -- we invest in the site, we manage everything about energy. Effectively we are a tech company,” Kocher said. “We have an engagement to make the energy bill effectively decrease, and our own remuneration depends on that.”

By focusing on business-to-business service deals and selling 15 billion euros ($18.5 billion) of coal, oil and gas assets, the company’s profitability is now tied more to stable contracts and less to wild swings in commodity prices, Kocher said. Engie shares fell 0.7% to 13.47 euros on Thursday.

Ohio State

Engie and Axium Infrastructure US Inc. last year inked a $1.16 billion deal with Ohio State to manage energy use at the Columbus school’s 485-building campus for 50 years. The companies promised to improve the school’s energy efficiency by 25 percent in the first 10 years, and the fee structure was designed to give financial incentives for energy-conservation measures, Ohio State said in a statement.

Engie is targeting air cooling and heating, lighting and transportation as areas it can cut down on wasted energy at facilities and campuses it manages, Kocher said. Engie can also implement micro-grids that take advantage of cheap renewable power investments to help reduce power purchases from the grid without risking reliability.

This 184-Year-Old French Power Giant Wants to Lower Bills

Energy efficiency has become a big business. Global investment in energy efficiency grew 9 percent in 2016 to $231 billion, according to the International Energy Agency. Efficiency improvements implemented since 2000 wiped out about 12 percent of global energy use in 2016, equivalent to all of the consumption in the European Union.

M&A Deals

Engie has also been active on the mergers and acquisition market. It bought 43 small- and mid-sized companies in the past two years, Kocher said, including ones that specialize in smart-charging for electric vehicles and building micro-grids.

A $27 billion mega-deal last week between German energy giants RWE AG and EON SE, which focused RWE on generating and trading power and EON on supplying 50 million energy customers across Europe, won’t affect Engie’s strategy, Kocher said.

“I’ve been asked several times if I’m tempted to buy big companies that are more classical, and I said no,” she said. “I want companies that help me accelerate Engie’s transformation. That’s the point more than the size.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.