German power boss goes renewables route…at home too

July 11, 2008

You know the wind is changing for renewables — so to speak — when the head of Europe’s biggest power producer becomes an advocate — and then even decides to reduce his own personal reliance on fossil fuels by powering and heating his new house with photovoltaic and geothermal energies.
Eon’s Wulf Bernotat

Wulf Bernotat, the chief executive of E.ON, admits he became rather belatedly an advocate for renewable energy, even if his company still gets the lion’s share of its 70 billion euros in annual turnover in 30 countries from burning fossil fuels. The reasons for the change of heart? It’s one answer to climate change, it’s the way the political winds were blowing, and there are profits to be made.

“We had a certain reservation about renewables until about a year ago and then we abandoned those reservations because we recognised that renewables are desired politically,” Bernotat said after a recent presentation to a group of journalists in Berlin. “That’s why it’s the right decision for us to get more actively involved.”

Bernotat also predicted that renewables will replace fossil fuels as the world’s most important energy source by 2050 and possibly even “completely displace fossil fuels by the end of this century.” It was an amazing forecast from a company so closely linked to coal-burning power plants — like a butcher saying everyone would become vegetarian by the end of the century.

Less known is Bernotat’s own personal commitment to renewables — he did not make a big deal about it but had mentioned once in passing in a German TV talk show that he planned to use geothermal power and photovoltaic on his new house. So when I asked him about it, his face lit up like a Christmas tree. He said using renewables made economic sense in the long run despite the heavy initial investment — he had to drill six holes 100 metres deep in his back yard to tap geothermal power for hot water and heating (I wish my wife would let me do that). He said he did it for his daughter, who would be able to reap the longer term return on the investment in renewables — although he too is reaping handsome returns now too. “It’s easier when you build a new house,” he said. “Then it’s easier to reduce CO2. But if you’ve got a house already and the gas-burning furnace is only five or 10 years old, it’s a more difficult matter. Do you really want to replace a furnace like that now?”

When I mentioned to him that a local E.ON subsidiary was buying my 6,000 kilowatts of photovoltaic power off my roof for nearly 3,000 euros each year — and thanked him half in jest for the prompt monthly payments — Bernotat just laughed and said: “Don’t thank me. It’s the other energy users (who pay higher monthly electric bills to subsidise photovoltaic providers like me) who are paying you for that. So thank them!”


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The shift to ‘green’ energy is happening right now. However, if we completely abandon the fossil fuels, and without a good transition strategy, it would be a disaster for consumers first. Giant companies, like EON, will always find a way to make a profit.

Posted by ED | Report as abusive

All of these lovely ideals like cutting CO2 and going green just don’t do it for me. I think that if Wulf Bernotat is right that there will be a large reduction in fossil fuels use by 2050, it will happen because fossil fuels are no longer economical, not because alternative energy was subsidized and mandated by politicians in 2008. And the same effect will happen to CO2. If oil runs low, then CO2 will decline. All the politicans do is to skew our economies and make us poorer due to the reduced efficiencies. The best thing that politicians can do about the current situation is to simply balance their budgets, keep taxes and spending low and maybe fund scientific research on the subject with the results available to all.

Posted by Bill Larson | Report as abusive

Bernotat was just partly correct in “correcting” journalist Kirschbaum who was talking about his (also wrongly stated) “6,000 kilowatts of photovoltaic power”.

In the article he mentions his installation to have a size of 7 kW(peak, that is: 7,000 Wattpeak, as flashed under Standard Test Conditions). Kirschbaum also mentions a yearly financial yield of 3.600 Euro, and a “fixed rate of 49 eurocents” (per kWh). Hence, he probably has coupled his installation to the net in 2007, in which a 20-year long fixed feed-in tariff (EEG obligation) of 49,21 eurocents/kWh was valid.

Making a yearly kWh production yield for Mr. Kirschbaum of 7,316 kWh, if his 3,600 Euro yearly income is correct. That would be 1,045 kWh per kWp per year, which is a yield that is achievable in Bavaria.

What Mr. Bernotat was wrong about that it would be (only) the OTHER electricity customers who would pay the feed-in bill of Mr. Kirschbaum. A wrong statement that apparently even Mr. Kirschbaum himself thinks to be (100%) true… What Mr. Bernotat forgot is that Mr. Kirschbaum is also making his “contribution” to the BEST feed-in system in the world (the German one, no one else): he also pays the “EEG Umlage” from his standard consumption meter, although it is only half a Eurocent per kWh that he consumes via this standard, separate meter (separate from the feed-in meter through which all production from the PV-installation is directly fed into the local grid). If he consumes relatively moderate (3,500 kWh per year is often mentioned), Mr. Kirschbaum (and Mr. Bernotat himself, although I doubt that the latter will have such a “moderate” consumption rate…), is paying 3,500 x 0.005 is approximately 17.50 Euro a year.

Still, a very good deal. Both for Mr. Kirschbaum, as for Mr. Bernotat. And for progression of PV on a global level…

Posted by polderboy | Report as abusive

Wow, Polderboy. I’m impressed with your math. I was promised 6,000 kilowatts a year by the PV sales people when it was installed in Dec 07…But you’re right. It’s going to be a bit less than that in this first year. It was about 2,500 through the first half of the year (partly due to some minor wiring/installation problems since repaired) so I’m hoping for about 5,000 to 5,500 for the full year. I do live just outside Berlin so I’m not going to get the same return as in Bavaria, which is about 600 km south of Berlin. But it’s still such a win-win that I’m planning to borrow as much as banks will lend me and put more PV systems on nearby school rooftops.

Posted by Erik Kirschbaum | Report as abusive