KATJA WÜNSCHEL

New targets make for ‘fruitful’ energy partnership

After signing deal with PPC, Germany’s RWE seeks to become ‘key driver’ of Greek transition away from coal, top executive says

new-targets-make-for-fruitful-energy-partnership

The prospects of green energy have rekindled the flame of interest from German energy firm RWE in Greece’s Public Power Corporation (PPC), first expressed in 2008 with plans for joining forces in the construction of two coal-fired plants with a total output of 1.6 gigawatts.

Coal may not have succeeded in bringing the two companies together back then, but efforts towards decarbonization have since provided fertile ground for a fresh partnership, which has resulted in a strategic cooperation agreement leading to important synergies for both parties.

A year after signing a memorandum of understanding in Berlin in March 2020, PPC and RWE are now in a position to start installing photovoltaic parks of 2 Gigawatts in Western Macedonia within the context of an agreement that was finalized earlier this month – and this is just the start.

“In the long run we have the ambition to be one of the key drivers of the Greek energy transition,” Katja Wünschel, chief operating officer for Wind Onshore and Solar Photovoltaics in Europe and Asia-Pacific for RWE Renewables, tells Kathimerini.

What does cooperation with PPC and the entry into the Greek renewables market mean for RWE?

We see Greece as a promising market for our further growth in renewable energy. Greece offers good conditions – especially for solar – and is clearly committed to renewable energy to facilitate the transformation of the country’s power market. When entering new markets, we like to build up good relationships with local partners, like PPC Renewables. Together we would like to exchange know-how in decarbonization as well as collaborate in the development and implementation of renewable energy projects – with an initial focus on solar – to support the Greek energy transition. This fits well with our own ambitions, as one of the leading producers of renewable power. Growing renewable energy is the clear focus of RWE. In the period from 2020 until the end of 2022, we aim to expand our renewables portfolio to a net capacity of more than 13 gigawatts, involving an investment of €5 billion net – together with partners, the gross investment volume may be as high as €9 billion. The expansion is focused on North America, the Asia-Pacific region and our core markets in Europe.

RWE already tried to gain a foothold in the Greek market by collaborating with PPC roughly a decade ago. What has changed since?

Conditions in the energy industry have changed so significantly in recent years that situations are not comparable. Today both companies face similar challenges with phasing out coal and a clear strategic focus on renewable energies. Against this backdrop, we see a great opportunity in this collaboration for both companies as well as for the Greek and European energy transition. Over the past months we have continuously strengthened the collaboration with PPC Renewables and therefore gained a better understanding of the Greek market itself, the way business is done here and what cultural approaches are all about. We are confident that we can jointly drive forward the growth of renewables in Greece.

Which are the synergies with the group of PPC?

It’s a collaboration on equal terms, where complementary strengths become a factor for success. PPC Group has a deep knowledge of the Greek energy market, a strong presence with its key stakeholders and a tangible renewables pipeline. We as RWE have an extensive track record in realizing and operating renewable energy projects, gained from delivering over 9 Gigawatt of installed capacity globally as well as further projects under construction and in development. Besides our global experience and financial strength, we want to bring our engineering know-how and expertise in the selection of suppliers and management of the supply chain into the collaboration.

What is the strategic plan of RWE’s investment in Greece in the long-term?

We and our partner are looking into a project pipeline with a total joint capacity of up to 2 Gigawatts of mainly solar PV. We are focused on where we invest, we need stable framework conditions. In the long run we have the ambition to be one of the key drivers of the Greek energy transition – what underlines our long-term commitment.

In which technologies are you intending to operate? Offshore wind is a new market for Greece. Is this in RWE’s plans?

In Greece our strategic focus is on the development and implementation of solar farms and onshore wind parks – we are currently focusing on a number of new solar projects within the boundaries of a former open-pit lignite mine. In Germany we have already gained demonstrable experience in this, for example by building several wind farms on recultivated land at our RWE open cast mines, and can transfer this knowledge to Greece. Nevertheless, as a major player in offshore wind, we always have an eye on the developments in offshore across all European markets, including Greece – however it is currently not our priority.

How do you assess Greece’s efforts towards decarbonization on the basis of RWE’s significant experience?

The conversion of the energy supply system is key for a sustainable future. The Greek government wants to phase out lignite generation at the latest by 2028. This is the basis for a fundamental change towards a sustainable electricity generation. Consequently, renewable energy production needs to be expanded quickly and decisively. RWE, a company with more than 120 years of experience in energy supply, has driven fundamental changes forward. Now we are a leading supplier of renewable energies worldwide. Even today, most of our core business is supplying green electricity. And we want to grow continuously by investing heavily in our renewables business in Greece and in our other core markets. We are entering the promising hydrogen technology at full speed. In addition, we are relying on storage facilities, biomass and gas-fired power plants, primarily powered by ‘green’ gas, which will be indispensable for security of supply. This is backed by the implementation of one of the most ambitious programs to reduce CO2 emissions in the entire industry: We are consistently and responsibly withdrawing from fossil energy sources to become carbon neutral by 2040. PPC obviously follows a similar path and has to face similar challenges. It makes a good starting point for a fruitful partnership.