Traditionally, utilities have not been the greatest of allies to decentralized energy projects – too often they saw modern, smaller-scale generation schemes simply as opposition to their traditional business of bringing power from remote power stations to their customers. But those attitudes have been changing for a while now, with the more progressive utilities in the front line of incorporating decentralized energy into their business models.

Two examples from Europe struck me recently. First, Francesco Starace (right), CEO of Italy’s Enel, one the world’s largest utility companies, has been quoted (in saying that the utility of the future is one that owns and manages a digitised grid that connects up decentralized green energy sources. He bemoans utilities that still think they should own large, centralized fossil fuel plants and says that Enel has decided to stop investing in large projects that take more than two or three years to complete.
Francesco Starace of Enel

With falling consumption, Europe’s utilities have to change, of course, to survive. Elsewhere Starace has said that: ‘the overcapacity we have in Europe is such that there is no possibility of imagining an overcoming of this situation of flat prices for many years to come.’

Meanwhile Germany’s E.ON has been telling the world of its recent ‘Supplier Innovation Day’ at which business customers heard how they could become ‘virtually emissions-free’ with on-site generation, solar+storage solutions and initiatives to sell power generated on-site around the neighbourhood. E.ON said it is keeping at the forefront of innovation, already offering energy storage and decentralized generation solutions for industry.

And the company can certainly back-up these claims. Earlier this month, E.ON announced the opening of a new CHP plant at Aqua Minerale San Benedetto, a soft drinks company based near Venice in Italy. The 13 MW scheme will produce process steam as well as power, and cut the company’s energy costs by around 15%. The next day, the company gave details of a CHP scheme to supply heat and power for a new cash-and-carry superstore in Nizhny Novgorad, Russia.

Some utilities have been working in the decentralized energy space for quite a while, building and operating plants for customers; the rest are going to have to catch-up to survive.