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birr-thomas-62.jpg.crop_display.jpg RWE

RWE Builds the Utility of the Future

Germany utilities' blaze innovation - path for U.S electrics?

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. The Energy Times recently discussed these topics with Thomas Birr, RWE chief strategy office, who will keynote the Empowering Customers & Cities conference in Chicago November 1-2. This is the first of a two-part series. Next week: RWE in an IoT World.

ENERGY TIMES: As head of innovation for one of the largest utility serving Germany and Holland, what are the challenges that you see ahead that you are innovating around right now?

BIRR: First and foremost there is the challenge that every big corporation has when they tap into innovation.  Rapid prototyping, finding new ideas and trying to nurture them.  It is not deeply in the DNA of big companies. RWE is a 116 year-old company very much still living in a world where you plan stuff for 5 to 10 years, you build stuff for 5 to 10 years and you run and upgrade the stuff for 50 years. That has to a large extent determined our view on what is the product cycle.  The world has changed dramatically.  The world is moving from centralized structures to de-centralized structures.  In my country we have already more than 30 percent of renewables in the system. We have ambitious plans to go far beyond that.  It is not about putting more copper into the ground. It is a system which needs digitalization, more intelligence, decentralized structures and many new ideas.

ENERGY TIMES: Renewables represents about 10 percent of RWE generation.

BIRR: When it comes to renewables RWE had already more than 4 gigawatts in offshore wind, onshore wind and hydropower by the end of 2015.  We are quite a large player in the renewables business in Europe.  We still have plans to grow on the renewables side. We have planned to spend 1 billion euros over the three years from 2015 to 2017 on the renewables business. 

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