EDITOR’S NOTE: Utilities in Germany have had to embrace new business models in the face of surging renewable resources and ever more pressure to combat climate change and promote efficiency. The Energy Times recently discussed these topics with Thomas Birr, RWE chief strategy office, who will deliver a keynote address at the Empowering Customers & Cities conference in Chicago November 1-2. This is the last of a two-part series.Last week: RWE Builds the Utility of the Future.
ENERGY TIMES: There is a lot of discussion in the utility sector about the advent of era of increased grid intelligence and an Internet of Things. What will that mean to your 23 million customers?
BIRR: We have three future oriented businesses. We feel that innovation and solutions for a much more digitized energy world is where we see huge chances for us to develop. So that’s why we’ve set up the RWE Innovation Hub one and a half years ago. It is a bunch of young talented employees from our European businesses plus a number of external hires from technology industries. They are searching for new business models and products for our value chain. We have four outposts that are generating new ideas. The biggest one is in Silicon Valley. We also have one in Israel, one in Berlin, and one in Birmingham, England.
ENERGY TIMES: Let us talk about the Silicon Valley innovation hub. Do you want to master new technologies to bring back to Europe or do you hope to have a role in the transformation of the U.S. utility market?
BIRR: Both. It’s an excellent question. We find the most dense innovation ecosystem in the Silicon Valley. We want to benefit from that ecosystems by spotting new ideas which we can bring over to our operation in Europe. And when we look at the American utility industry, we also have some things in our product portfolio which we can bring to the party. We will try to find partnerships and work in the United States market.
ENERGY TIMES: When was the Silicon Valley hub opened?
BIRR: The Silicon Valley hub opened the beginning of 2015. We have a core team of 5 people.
ENERGY TIMES: Can you give me one example of something they’re working on that you think will have huge impact?
BIRR: We are quite active in electric mobility. We are one of the market leaders in charging systems here in Europe. In California there are very ambitious plans to grow the electric mobility business. We believe that the urban market in the United States is waiting for intelligent systems that we are able to offer. We have systems which are able to offer vehicle to grid communication and intelligent roaming systems. At the end of the day we want to make a data centered business out of it.