March 11, 2020 / 2:24 PM / 25 days ago

UPDATE 1-Uniper puts coal spending behind it as looks to greener future

* Looking to replace coal earnings with renewables

* Solar, hydro, onshore wind, M&A all options

* Detail of possible hydrogen ventures due within weeks (Adds details, earnings and ownership context)

By Vera Eckert and Tom Käckenhoff

FRANKFURT, March 11 (Reuters) - German utility Uniper said on Wednesday it was keen to shift to investments in lower carbon energy following on from its last major expenditure on coal plants, which are scheduled to start up later this year.

The company has faced criticism from environmental campaigners concerned about the impact of fossil fuel on global temperatures and shareholders worried about the potential for assets to be stranded.

It issued a coal exit schedule at the end of January, but later this year its Datteln 4 coal-fired power station and Berezovskaya 3 plant in Russia will begin generation.

Chief Executive Andreas Schierenbeck said Datteln 4 had cost more than 1.5 billion euros ($1.70 billion) and the Russian project required a high triple-digit million euros sum.

With that expenditure out of the way, he said in an interview, the company would be “free for other endeavours in the medium term”.

Coal activities with 9.2 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity account for 20% of profits, natural gas for around 60% and renewables and services for the remainder.

“We are looking to have an earnings impact from the new business areas that would replace over time the loss of income we have from our coal assets,” Chief Operating Officer David Bryson said in a separate interview.

Green energy activities would involve readying Uniper’s huge natural gas infrastructure in Europe for a possible hydrogen economy, he said.

The company on Tuesday reported earnings growth for 2019 and a higher dividend in future years.

Between now and 2022, Uniper will invest more than 1.2 billion in low carbon projects.

Uniper operates under the scrutiny of top shareholder Fortum , which focuses on clean technology.

Bryson said future renewable possibilities were extensive.

Uniper’s vast gas transporting, storage and supply functions, where it is a main player in Europe and Gazprom’s biggest customer, offer great scope to serve a future hydrogen economy, as supported by Berlin, Bryson said.

The company has years of experience in producing hydrogen and methane from wind power at pilot plants.

“In a few weeks’ time, we will be sharing details of possible industry partnerships in hydrogen,” Bryson said.

Other options include onshore wind and photovoltaic projects and extending existing run-of-river power, as well as M&A involving hydropower.

Uniper’s trading arm is working on long-term green power purchase agreements, and the company might also get involved in solutions for uninterrupted electricity, heating and cooling needed by data centres, for instance.

$1 = 0.8817 euros Reporting by Vera Eckert in Frankfurt and Tom Kaeckenhoff in Duesseldorf; editing by Thomas Seythal and Barbara Lewis

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