News Analysis: Italy's Saipem making big bet on green energy

Source: Xinhua| 2019-01-22 05:01:01|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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ROME, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- Saipem, one of the world's top infrastructure development and oil and gas exploration companies, is placing a bet on renewable energy.

Saipem got its start 62 years ago as a subsidiary of Italian state oil and gas giant Eni, and since then it has evolved into one of the world leaders in terms of energy exploration and project development.

Saipem is one of the largest public companies in Italy in terms of market capitalization and revenue. But both indicators are slipping: the company's stock has lost 80 percent of its value in the last five years, while revenue slipped by nearly 1 billion euros (1.14 billion U.S. dollars) between 2016 and 2017 (the latest figures available).

Early guidance from the company predicts it will fall by at least that amount between 2017 and 2018. Those results will be released in March.

Rising expenses, lower prices for oil and gas, political instability in many parts of the world, and a slowdown in the global economy have all taken a toll, analysts told Xinhua.

Saipem's plan to confront the trend, at least in part, depends on switching focus toward renewable energy projects.

"Right now, the amount of revenue Saipem gets from renewable energy projects is small, maybe 100 million euros, compared to more than 7 billion euros for oil and gas projects," Luca Bergamaschi, an analyst specializing in energy and climate issues and a member of MondoDem, a think tank, told Xinhua. "But the company can see the future and the future involves renewable energy."

Most of Italy's most important industrial sectors should be making a similar shift.

Under the terms promised by the European Union as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, Italy is required to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2013 compared to 1990 baseline levels. A shift that large will require a rapid move away from the traditional power sources Saipem's business is based on.

The company's newest contracts are dominated by traditional energy projects, often in harsh or otherwise difficult areas.

For example, last month Saipem signed a high-profile deal worth 2.2 billion euros as a co-developer for a liquid natural gas project in northern Russia, within the Arctic Circle. The company is also upping its involvement in the gas-rich country of Azerbaijan.

But the company is also boasting that it will "be at the forefront of the energy transition by delivering solutions and services for successful execution of projects in growing sectors of renewable energy and green technology."

Analysts said the emphasis is significant. "Environmentally friendly technology and energy are areas where Saipem is being proactive," Javier Noriega, chief economist with Hildebrandt and Ferrar, said in an interview.

"To a certain extent, they are betting future growth on renewable energy projects becoming bigger and more common and the company's expertise in developing projects in difficult circumstances paying dividends."

Officials from environmental groups told Xinhua they applauded Saipem's plans to develop renewable energy projects but said the company, as well as other major industrial entities in Italy, should move quicker to phase out projects in sectors that produced greenhouse gasses and pollution.