Since assuming her position as CEO, Isabelle Kocher has truly walked the talk and positioned ENGIE as a major player in driving the sustainable energy transition forward for decades to come
You chair the Terrawatt Initiative to reach 2.5 terawatts of renewable power by 2025. What were the main drivers behind it?
Behind this initiative, there is a paradox: political mobilization around the energy transition is increasing, clean technologies are becoming mature and capital is available. However, investments in renewables in emerging and developing countries are still too slow. We are still a long way from what is needed to reach a two-degree Celsius scenario. To keep up with the objectives of the fight against global warming will require 15 to 20 times more investments in renewable energies in these regions of the world.
To keep up with the objectives of the fight against global warming will require 15 to 20 times more investments in renewable energies in these regions of the world.
That is why it is urgent to speed things up and to remove all the barriers to mass usage of clean technologies.
Which barriers are you referring to?
First, there is the regulatory framework. It is a fact that investors are reluctant to invest in areas where regulation is uncertain and where guarantees are inadequate. Second, investors are still showing little interest in small-size projects such as micro-grids. However, these projects will be an important way of structuring the electrification of isolated areas in Africa and Asia. ENGIE launched the Terrawatt Initiative project in 2015 at the COP 21 in Paris to overcome these barriers and structure the market. The Terrawatt Initiative will soon set up a platform to link all the key stakeholders within a framework agreed on by the member countries, to satisfy public needs for renewable energies. This platform, which targets 20GW of installed solar capacity, will in particular aggregate demand and help countries establish a common legal purchasing framework and mutual guarantees (the Common Risk Mitigation Mechanism). It will also improve the flow of information between market actors, and structure attractive guaranteed investment products for private institutional investors. This platform can become the benchmark, the Amazon of all the infrastructure and assets of the green economy, and thereby allow mass investment in these technologies.
As CEO of ENGIE, what do you see as the biggest challenges in driving sustainability initiatives?
As the CEO of a company leading the energy transition, I am often confronted with contradictory injunctions from investors. On the one hand, they demand that we adopt a strategy which is in keeping with the Paris Accord and is mindful of the environment. On the other hand, the very same investors have their eyes set on our quarterly results. So my biggest challenge is to strike the right balance, where we are able to create value in the short term and still pave the way for the future and develop new, emerging business models. And we are succeeding! Two years ago, we decided on a strategic pivot. This entailed selling 20% of our activities and focusing on those at the core of the energy transition: low-CO2 power generation, global networks, and customer solutions. We accepted that our company would shrink, and investors first expressed their surprise. Two years later, our organic growth has reached 5% per year and we have become much more profitable.
So my biggest challenge is to strike the right balance, where we are able to create value in the short term and still pave the way for the future and develop new, emerging business models.
How important is it for corporations to have a sustainability strategy? What role should investors play?
We have to overcome the dichotomy between companies, which are seen as only preoccupied with profitability and economic growth, and NGOs and States, whose role is to make up for the deficiencies of corporations. People aspire to a different model. For companies, it means that they have to implement much more ambitious corporate social responsibility policies and integrate CSR in their business offers. People want companies to truly “walk the talk.” Tolerance for inconsistencies between words and actions – and greenwashing – has become extremely low among investors, employees, and clients. Companies have no choice other than to create a business model that is both economically viable and has a positive impact for society as a whole. That is the core of our strategy: we focus our efforts on goods and services that reconcile the common good with economic value, and contribute to more harmonious progress. This choice was driven by our personal convictions, but it is also the right choice from an economic point of view: we have become much more attractive, and regained market share.
In the “new energy” environment, with the rise of distributed generation and new technologies such as blockchain, energy storage, and demand response solutions, what does the future utility model look like?
I usually talk about a 3D world to describe the future of energy. The 3Ds are: decarbonisation, decentralization, and digitalization. In this world, low-carbon energy sources will become the norm. Instead of relying on big power plants for the supply of energy, we will see more and more consumers produce their own energy – by installing rooftop solar PV, for instance. Besides, decentralized systems, such as mini-grids or solar home systems, will play an essential role in the electrification of rural and remote areas in Asia and in Africa. It is now a world of algorithms, software, Big Data, and the Internet of Things. In a world dominated by intermittent renewables, where it is increasingly difficult to balance supply and demand at every millisecond, you have to rely on data management and AI.
I usually talk about a 3D world to describe the future of energy. The 3Ds are: decarbonisation, decentralization, and digitalization.
How important is collaboration between utilities and innovators? What initiatives at ENGIE are you most proud of?
Innovators bring agility and new ideas. Big companies bring experience, global support and connections. We have a presence in 70 countries, with a portfolio of clients that is the biggest in the world. If a big group like ENGIE is able to combine the ability to innovate and to act with the support of a huge platform – that is to say, create an environment where you can innovate and bring that size, the sky is the limit. Besides, now that we have a very clear purpose, we have become much more attractive to new talents and startups. Everywhere in the world, our teams receive many spontaneous proposals from startups.
What will we see next from you?
From Terrawatt, you can expect this new digital platform which will connect investors with the sponsors of renewable projects in emerging and developing countries. At ENGIE, we are currently working on our strategic vision for the future, which we refer to as “ENGIE 2030.” We’re consulting experts both inside and outside of the company. We will share the results at the end of the year.
About Sustainable Heroes
Join us on a journey into the hearts and minds of some of today’s greatest heroes, who have dedicated themselves to positively impact tomorrow’s world. We invite you to explore with us what makes these heroes tick, what drives them to overcome arduous trials and immense challenges, known and unknown. In this issue, we pay homage to a corporate leader, an Arctic explorer, a highly admired policy builder, an innovative investor and an entrepreneurial foundation president - all of whom share the goal of creating a sustainable world that is more resilient as well as financially stable. We encourage you on your own quest for ways to innovate, embrace sustainability and do the right thing. Become a heroine or hero to others and help us together solve the problems threatening our very survival. To each of you heroes and heroines, there is a brighter, more sustainable future that we can build together for future generations. We welcome nominations for people you’d like to see featured in future editions. Please send your nominations and other comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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