Fossil fuels: Here to stay or heading for extinction?

Fossil fuels: Here to stay or heading for extinction?

Reading time: 4 minutes
July 15, 2022

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Beyond the headline net zero commitments and frequently reoccurring climate platitudes, reducing carbon emissions in line with global targets will require some seriously heavy lifting, particularly by companies with long histories of traditional energy generation.

In the case of MVV, a German regional integrated utility, and Utilitas, the largest district heating operator in Estonia, the roadmap for net zero greenhouse gas emissions is multifaceted and comprises significant technical and technological renewal as well as cultural change.

In the 13 years to the end of 2021, Utilitas, which operates three combined heat and power and now nine solar parks to heat 174,000 households in Eastern Europe, has invested more than €400 million to drive down its reliance on greenhouse gas emitting energy. During this time the company has replaced natural gas and oil-fired energy production with new biomass-fuelled combined heat and power plants as well as sourced waste heat from a nearby energy-from-waste plant.

Utilitas is one of the 17 companies in Igneo Infrastructure Partners’ portfolio of 25 that have set a net zero emissions target .

To meet its commitment, Utilitas has estimated it will spend an additional €550 million on a series of programs to upgrade energy production and infrastructure to improve efficiency, secure green electricity supply with the construction of two renewable energy projects, and implement digital solutions to reduce consumption peaks which saves energy.

Plans are already in place at the district heating operator to install sea and wastewater heat pumps, invest in new and more efficient pumps, replace natural gas production with biogas, construct new onshore wind and solar projects as well as introduce smart substations to enable real-time automatic management of the networks.

The acquisitions of MVV and enfinium were the primary source of the increase in total scope 1 and 2 emissions from 2020 to 2021

The plans and capital earmarked for Utilitas’s transformation are among the more detailed in the group of 25 companies, but emblematic of what sits behind a commitment to net zero.

Igneo is aiming for all of its portfolio companies to have in place by 2023 a long-term goal for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier. Portfolio companies should also articulate short and medium-term emissions reduction targets.

Reducing emissions, not avoiding them

Setting a net zero target doesn’t necessarily mean just investing in companies with low carbon intensity

Setting a net zero target doesn't necessarily mean just investing in companies with low carbon intensity. In fact Igneo measured an increase in its portfolio’s carbon footprint in 2021 compared to the previous year. The firm measures its portfolio’s carbon footprint using the weighted average of tonnes of scope 1 and scope 2 CO2e emissions of its portfolio companies per million Euros of net asset value.

Igneo attributes the increase in its portfolio’s carbon footprint during the 12 months to 2021 to acquisitions of relatively high emitting businesses, enfinium and MVV.

Source: Igneo Infrastructure Partners

Mannheim-headquartered MVV Energie is a good example of the approach Igneo takes working with companies despite exposure some other investment firms might consider to be a ‘show stopper’ such as coal power generation, as highlighted in this recent insight.

Like many regional utilities in Germany, MVV looks back on a history of over 100 years and has traditionally relied on conventional fossil fuels to generate power and heat for its customers. MVV’s total carbon footprint is dominated by its Scope 1 emissions from gas and coal-fired co-generation plants.

After months of detailed planning, in October 2021, MVV published a new target to reach net zero by 2040, a decade ahead of the timeline Igneo places on its portfolio companies as part of its ‘Climate Action 1, 2, 3!’ program. The company has also committed to interim goals including reducing Scope 1 emissions by 80% by 2030 and reducing Scope 2 and 3 emissions by 80% by 2035, both against a 2018 baseline.

Beyond 2040, MVV plans to become climate positive, removing carbon from the atmosphere by sequestering it at its biomass and energy-from- waste plants.

MVV’s roadmap to its ambitious net zero goals include commissioning a new natural gas plant in Kiel to replace an old coal plant, upgrading an energy-from-waste plant in Mannheim supporting the city’s district heating network and providing incremental capacity to allow gradual decommissioning of Mannheim’s major coal plant. It also has on its roadmap the opening a new energy-from-waste plant in Dundee, Scotland, as well as renewal of an older energy-from-waste plant that had been earmarked for decommissioning.

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