Total refocuses on retail energy, sets target for 7 million clients by 2022

Total is picking up about 150,000 retail energy customers a month in France and is on course to hit its 2022 target for the business ahead of schedule, company executives say.

The French energy group is looking to broaden its revenue streams with expansion in a retail power and gas market in which demand is shifting to low-carbon energy from more polluting fossil fuels.

Total has said it plans to invest $1.5bn to $2bn a year on low-carbon electricity. Rival Shell, which is expanding its own retail power business, has said it plans to invest the same amount on renewables and low-carbon business.

Total bought Belgium’s Lampiris in 2016 and Direct Energie in 2018 for $1.7bn, merging the businesses in its push to become a so-called integrated player operating gas-fired, wind, solar and hydropower generation while also selling power directly to retail clients. The group had set a target of 7-million clients across France and Belgium — about 15% of the market — by 2022, up from 4-million.

CEO Patrick Pouyanne and Xavier Caitucoli, the head of Total’s power and gas business in Europe, told journalists that current trends make the target achievable before 2022. It is now France’s third-largest retail power supplier, behind former monopolies EDF and Engie, and the biggest alternative supplier in a market that also includes Leclerc, Casino and Italy’s Eni.

EDF is the market leader with 28.4-million customers, according to data from French energy market regulator CRE. Pouyanne said that Total will leverage its brand recognition and petrol station network to win customers, with plans to offer 1 euro cent for every litre of petrol bought from its French forecourts to the first million clients that sign up for its residential electricity offer from June 1.

The company also plans to expand its power generation capacity, particularly in gas and renewables. It has four gas-fired plants, plans to buy two others operated by Germany's Uniper and has made a final investment decision to build another by the end of 2021. “We will likely not stop there,” Pouyanne said, pointing to European efforts to halt coal-fired generation while France plans to reduce its nuclear power capacity.

Belgium in April passed bills aimed at spurring investment in gas-fired power and 4,000MW of new offshore wind farm capacity by 2030 to replace its ageing nuclear reactors. Caitucoli said Total would participate in the energy transformation in Belgium, where it has a million customers and owns a 400MW gas power plant.

“Concretely, we are currently looking at a project to build another gas power plant in Belgium, but I will not say where,” Pouyanne said. “There is a future for gas-fired generation and we are taking that position. We would likely buy or build if prices are competitive.”