Utilities: leading bodies in the ecological transition?

Europe has just lost two emblematic figures: Helmut Kohl and Simone Veil. The emotion we perceived in their respective countries, when we learnt their passing, clearly shows the importance of the fighting they have carried out for the evolution of our European structures and societies.

Does the ability to become a hero of Europe or a hero of the World belong to the past? Will our countries see again the emergence of figures recognized during their lifetime as part of history? Do our societies still offer fields of expression and progress allowing them to emerge?

I recently discussed with a group of young Europeans who doubted about it. My conviction is quite different. Strong battles are still needed to align European countries around a more flexible governance and around more ambitious objectives, to change our societies towards more peace and fairness but there is a singular fight whose importance stakes surpass others: the ecological safeguard of our planet, the construction of a world reconciling economy and ecology, ecology and humanities.

Utilities are at the heart of this issue, to the point that they are both a potential example (because of the importance of the impact they have on their environment) and a symbol. They become a point of attention and interest for people and public opinions that gradually take over the priorities that are necessary for us to protect our planet.

During my assignments, I observe very heterogeneous levels of consciousness and action among utilities. These utilities often reflect the maturity of their country’s public opinion on environmental issues; they are more rarely pioneers.

Utilities are first differentiated by their level of consciousness: too many still remain at the level of denial: denial of the need to act, denial of the urgency in which we are, denial of the ecological impact of fossil and nuclear energy (which does not mean at this stage that it should be eradicated in 5 or 10 years!), denial of a decline in the profitability of fossil fuels. A large contingent of utilities is aware of the necessary actions but remains scared by the importance of what has to be achieved and the feeling of not knowing where to go or how to get there. Finally, in Switzerland, Germany, Norway and other countries, some utilities are promoters of environmental progress and show an awareness of the stakes and also of their role.

Having become fully aware of their environmental impact, utilities are differentiated at another level: that of their strategy. The possibility of taking advantage of a more protective orientation of the environment in order to place it on the economic front is a strategic direction. The reconciliation of the economy and ecology can be catalysed by regulation, by the belief that developing collective dynamics around green energies inevitably strengthen  their competitive positions or by a vision going beyond the short term horizon. Large energy producers such as ENEL and Engie communicate on such a strategy, but the most striking examples are to be found among medium-sized energy producers in Central and Northern Europe.

By combining the different points of view provided by my clients, I am convinced that an environmental approach will not be sufficient for a utility to distinguish itself in the future but that a lack of awareness and of a clear and voluntarist direction towards the construction of a new energy world is a major handicap, if not insurmountable, to survive.

Some of the biggest utilities already have enough to frighten their most enlightened shareholders!

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