Interview with Dr. Hans Bünting
Mr. Bünting, from now on you are the new CEO of RWE Innogy. How does it feel?
I am proud to succeed Fritz Vahrenholt as Chief Executive Officer of RWE Innogy. Especially in turbulent times for RWE and also Innogy in which all of us have to rise to great challenges. One advantage, I think, is the experience I have gathered in this company. I am not starting from scratch, the team is working well together, and I am familiar with our markets, technologies and projects. So the responsibility will be handed over smoothly.
This sounds like continuity or do you intend to change a lot?
Continuity is a very important factor in our young business. We have developed entirely new businesses in the last four years and already launched and implemented many projects while everything was still in flux. However, the very large growth steps have to be taken now. So far, capacity came on stream primarily in onshore wind, hydro power and biomass, but now we are starting the construction of our large offshore wind projects "Nordsee Ost“ and "Gwynt y Môr“ or the development of major hydroelectric power projects in southeast Europe. And the growth in the onshore wind business has to continue, while other projects in the biogas or solar fields have to be taken care of as well. Therefore, it is important to stay on track and not to become nervous because of occasional setbacks in the project business; we have to keep up the Innogy spirit which has been our hallmark so far. I am happy to remain committed to this continuity.
So everything stays the same for the time being?
Innogy keeps developing on an ongoing basis which may involve occasional adjustments of direction. The markets in which we operate are changing way too fast for a rigid course. Just take the development in photovoltaics. The slump in prices for PV modules we are seeing at the moment was inconceivable even until very recently. This is why we have reassessed the situation. It now seems to be appropriate to erect large-scale PV systems in southern Europe and to cooperate with customers there who use this electricity directly. We intend to embark on this new path and to also break new ground with our Desertec partners in a project in Morocco. This is no revolution, but we simply follow the current market trends. Some other technologies which have taken a less dynamic development may be abandoned now. We have to maintain this kind of flexibility to stay profitable and successful.
What do you think are the greatest challenges for RWE Innogy?
The entire energy sector in Germany and Europe is changing. RWE as a whole has to find answers to this. The previous market models of large-scale centralised energy generation are increasingly being shaken. Renewable energies reduce the scale of power generation and make it more difficult to control and distribute. This development is politically intended and, in my opinion, irreversible. This also means, however, that a company like RWE has to reinvent itself on almost all levels. For Innogy this means that we have to align our power plant portfolio by technologies and countries in such a way that we find a better balance for the risks resulting from the wind and weather and changes in the subsidisation schemes. For the Group as a whole this means that tradition-steeped paradigms and business models have to be challenged and new ideas must be developed.
How can this be done?
Step by step. First we have to continue growing in our "bread-and-butter business" by delivering the projects step by step "in time and on budget". Nothing less is expected of us. In so doing, we have to demonstrate especially in the offshore wind segment that we master the tough and complex construction business on the high seas. I believe, however, that we are well positioned. We plan to do a lot also in the onshore wind segment: Germany, the United Kingdom, Poland and the Netherlands are in the focus of our wind power generation in northern Europe – in the south this is Spain and Italy. We intend to continue growing our operations in these countries. We aim to approximately triple the present installed capacity in the next decade. The growth of hydroelectric power will then increase the share of renewables in our portfolio which already does without subsidies today. We intend to do this especially in the region of former Yugoslavia. This is because base-load power plants are needed here and hydroelectric power is the preferred technology. Biomass is another option. It can either replace conventional power plants or make them more environmentally benign by co-firing. We intend to use these advantages by moving forward with the repowering of coal-fired power stations and the co-firing of biomass in existing plants. In the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, we have already been very successful with this approach. Innogy will produce the required fuel, i.e. wood pellets, itself. The first such facility is already in place in Georgia.
What is going to change for you personally as a result of your new role as CEO?
I will definitely not have fewer appointments and be travelling a lot. I will nonetheless continue to seize opportunities to have personal conversations with colleagues, even more so, if possible. I intend to be a CEO trying to get in touch and communicate with the people. I really want to know what the colleagues at the sites are thinking and what their problems are when things are not going well.