‘Our objective is to make E.ON into a leading company of the distributed, renewable, and digital energy world.’ So said the CEO of the German utility company E.ON, Johannes Teyssen last month, describing the course the company is to take after spinning off its ‘conventional’ power generation and trading businesses.
The company has separated into a new ‘Uniper’ subsidiary its hydro, coal-fired and gas-fired power generation activities, together with global energy trading, to leave a new focus on renewables, energy networks and customer solutions – decentralized energy, in other words.
The move to a largely decentralized energy was always going to involve the cooperation and involvement of many of the existing utilities, as well as new-entrant enterprises fully-focused on new approaches. Although they were founded on highly centralized models, the more agile utility operators have long been keeping a close eye on where the market is going – operating industrial-scale cogeneration plants for their customers and developing microgrid technologies, for example.
Even so, E.ON is more involved than most. As well as splitting the company in two, it is also taking part in a new consortium established to: ‘develop and test efficient, forward-looking structures that combine centralized and distributed energy sources.’ Supported by the German government, New Energy Network Structures for the Energy Transition (ENSURE) will encompass both power transmission and information and communications technologies to build towards what it calls tomorrow’s networked supply structures.
The company has also begun selling energy storage systems which, in a package alongside solar PV units.ON, constitute their own micro-decentralized energy system. Aimed at the domestic market, householders can also by an energy app and a green electricity tariff as part of the ‘Aura’ package. The 4.4 kWh storage unit, based on lithium-ion batteries, should allow a family of four to meet their evening and night-time electricity needs from their own PV system.
In its latest report: Pathways for the GB Electricity Sector to 2030, Britain’s trade association for utilities, Energy UK, spells out a clear message: ‘There is an urgency for investment as the economics of traditional large-scale generation makes way for a newer model, which will see these plants complemented by decentralised technologies.’