Utilities cannot power the clean energy transition alone and must be open to partnering with other sectors, particularly the automotive and IT industries, if they are to evolve.

That was the view of innogy chief executive Peter Terium, speaking during a plenary session at this week’s Bloomberg New Energy Finance Future of Energy Summit in London.

Terium, speaking on a panel alongside Enel chief executive Francesco Starace and the COO of E.On’s networks and renewables division Leonard Birnbaum, remarked that the energy transition promised to be a “staggeringly interesting” time for energy companies and insisted it would be “fun”, but was quick to stress that the change would not be without its challenges.

As power markets across the globe increasingly turn to cleaner, more decentralised generation, legacy utilities have had to about-face quickly. Billions have been wiped off the value of energy companies in recent years, with many looking to new, expensively-arranged strategies to return to growth.

Terium said that it was not enough for utilities these days to just focus on the supply of power, chiefly because competing on price for an “underappreciated” commodity product such as electricity was difficult.

Instead, Terium suggested, the future for utilities lies in accompanying products and services, insisting that there would be “huge potential upsides” for utilities taking on additional roles as further aspects of society electrify.

Terium further suggested that it would be up to utilities to partner with companies from other sectors – particularly the automotive and IT industries – in order to further and fulfil their ambitions when it came to burgeoning technologies such as electric vehicles, energy sharing, big data and blockchain.

Both Starace and Birnbaum echoed Terium’s sentiments, the former arguing that the energy market was currently “staggering in its innovation” as new products and services come to market.

He noted that Enel had seen different markets take to different products. In Colombia the firm had released its own consumer credit card, whereas in Spain Enel has a successful home improvement division.

Birnbaum, meanwhile, said that E.On had achieved notable success in its solar-plus-battery product and in particular a more recent upgrade, dubbed the solar cloud, which enables customers to use the electricity they generate from their rooftops wherever and whenever they please.

Serving customers, Birnbaum added, was a “great heritage of our industry, but we need to combine it with the will to innovate”. 

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