Interview with the board of RWE AG

„We aim to be carbon-neutral by 2040”

RWE CEO, Rolf Martin Schmitz (right), and Markus Krebber, CFO, on the new RWE, its contribution to the energy transition and what makes the company tick.

What characterises the new RWE?

Schmitz: In one sentence? It’s fresh, flexible and sustainable. RWE is international and fully geared towards growth in renewables. And, most importantly, RWE has a clear CO₂ reduction target.

That’s a bit more than one sentence …

Schmitz: You’re right, but that’s what characterises the new RWE. We’re a new company. We are starting off as one of the world’s market leaders for renewables. And we aim to be carbon-neutral by 2040. At the same time, we haven’t forgotten about our roots. We produce clean, reliable and affordable electricity. Or, to put it another way: our product is still the same, but we emit increasingly less CO₂ producing it. Which is a good thing, as societies around the world need a more sustainable supply of electricity.

The transaction with E.ON is currently being completed. Are you ready?

Krebber: Yes, we are – across the whole company. For the last eighteen months, we have been preparing for this day. Internally, the new RWE has long been picking up speed. Our strategy is in place and our employees are ready to start. We are now looking forward to working with our new colleagues and to finally getting started. We have over nine gigawatts (GW) of renewables. Another 2.6 GW are currently being developed, and we want to grow our portfolio consistently and unfold its full value. This applies to offshore and onshore wind power, photovoltaics and storage as well. These are what the new RWE is focusing on.

Will the integration add value?

Schmitz: The two parts of the renewables business that we are taking over from E.ON and innogy complement each other perfectly, both from a regional as well as a technological point of view. But there is another, quite important matter. Our trading company, RWE Supply & Trading, provides us with an excellent platform for marketing our renewables. RWE Supply & Trading offers our large, industrial customers tailored solutions. Renewables play an increasingly important role in this. And of course, with our knowledge of international markets and our offices around the world, for example in Asia, we have a whole lot to offer.

Is RWE equipped for the new growth path?

Krebber: Absolutely. When it comes to our future growth ambitions, we are well prepared. Financially, RWE is in a robust position. In future, around 60 per cent of our financial result will be generated by our renewables business. Which is how we aim to become an important growth engine for the energy world of tomorrow. To achieve this, we have at least 1.5 billion euros net at our disposal for investments each year. Joining forces with our partners can significantly increase our investment framework as well.

What role do innovation and new technologies play within the new RWE?

Schmitz: Quite a central one, which is nothing new for our Group. Our company is of a predominantly technical nature, we always aim to play a prominent role in this field. For this purpose, today’s technologies – renewables as well as conventional plants – have to generate power in an increasingly efficient and cost-effective manner. And, at the same time, new technologies need to be commercially viable. This particularly applies to storage, Power-to-x and hydrogen technologies. Electricity is the most important driving factor for innovation and modernisation of our time. Electrification and digitalisation are progressing into every area of our lives and are “energising” a lot of sectors, so to speak. Electricity is needed everywhere: be it industrial manufacturing processes, communications or the traffic sector, and electricity needs to be clean, secure and affordable.

How is the new RWE contributing to achieve climate targets?

Schmitz: We adhere to national and international climate protection targets and, along with other energy companies, had been committed to carbon neutrality by 2050 years ago.

Krebber: We are now taking this even one step further and aim to be carbon-neutral by 2040. This is our clear goal. The plan for phasing out coal has been mapped out and we will, of course, no longer invest in new coal-fired power plants.

But these admittedly did have a very high level of emissions …

Schmitz: That’s right, but we’re not all talk. We act as well. We are expanding renewables and storage, and are gradually reducing coal-fired power generation. Between 2012 and 2018, we reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by around 60 million tonnes of CO₂. This is a decline of around a third and is the equivalent of the carbon dioxide emitted by 30 million cars per year. I know of no other company that has achieved more in the past years. Today, around 60 per cent of our portfolio is already low in CO₂. And we will continue on this path.

What do you think about the call for Germany to withdraw from coal-fired power generation ahead of schedule?

Schmitz: I think it’s great that a lot of people, especially the younger generation, are taking the energy transition and sustainability seriously. And we accept society’s consensus to phase out coal. But in this case, demands aren’t very helpful, as Germany will need coal-fired power plants for many years to come in order to secure supplies.

Krebber: And we mustn’t forget that the pace of the phase-out also depends on how consistently the expansion of renewables, storage and networks progresses. Because the less time that takes, the sooner we can do without coal-fired power stations. It’s not a question of just shutting them down.

And when exactly will you be shutting down the last RWE coalfired power plant?

Schmitz: The Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment achieved a broad agreement: coalfired power generation will end in 2038 at the latest. We now need to get this underway. However, instead of arguing about the exact date, we feel it is much more important to look at how the process is designed today. We have assumed our responsibility as a reliable employer and partner of the region. And we will do everything we can to implement this process smoothly. If you start something, you have to complete it reliably. Which, by the way, is true for both coal and nuclear energy. In order for this to succeed, companies need one thing above all others: planning reliability.

What does RWE’s change mean for its employees?

Krebber: Change is part of RWE’s history. Change is needed to stay competitive in the future. The feature that distinguishes our employees is their ability to take on challenges. And they do this with regard to our entire set of values: trust, passion and performance. Our corporate culture leaves a lot of room for creative ideas and we are enthusiastic about new things. We are looking forward to the around 4,000 employees that will now be joining us from E.ON and innogy. They are going to make our company even more international, vibrant and diverse.

How do you manage to win employees over during periods of change like this?

Schmitz: By being open, fair and, above all, respectful. The individual companies each have their own culture, which is a good thing. However, our co-operation within the Group is founded on the high respect we have for the other’s performance.

Is it safe to say you’re looking forward to the changes ahead?

Schmitz: Absolutely. The energy transition has us facing particular challenges, and the best way to deal with them is to roll up your sleeves and get on with it. Our people at RWE want to shape the transformation, within the company, on the markets and in society.

It sounds like you and your employees are far from leading a dull life.

Krebber:(laughs) I think that’s a safe bet.

Schmitz: For more than 120 years, life at RWE has been exciting. This will surely not change.

  • “We produce clean, reliable and affordable electricity.”

    Rolf Martin Schmitz (CEO)

  • “In future, around 60 per cent of our financial result will be generated by our renewables business.”

    Markus Krebber (CFO)

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