Interview with Isabelle Kocher for the Revue des Mines


Isabelle Kocher, Deputy CEO and Chief Operating Officer

In France, the energy transition is the subject of lively debate, focusing largely on the German model. What do you see as the best strategy for the energy transition?

The energy transition is being debated all over Europe, as well as elsewhere around the world. Indeed, all economies are taking action to change the way that they produce and consume energy. In Europe, countries like the UK have overhauled their policies to support the energy transition with a view to finding a healthy balance between nuclear and renewable energies and natural gas.

In Germany, the authorities, according to a radical nuclear phase out decision;faces several key questions on the financing of renewable energy, on the role of carbon in the German energy mix, and on obtaining their greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.  Finally, in France, the bill under discussion is a good thing if it will permit the acceleration in the progress towards a more diversified energy mix with more energy efficient services, all while acknowledging the key role of natural gas.

What is the current state of the European energy mix?

Within Europe, the energy transition is taking the form of an increasingly sustainable and decentralised energy mix through the use of renewable technologies. Everyone has a role to play at this pivotal time for energy: politicians, local authorities, consumers, and of course industry. Electricity production facilities are becoming more regionally accessible, located closer to consumers who can now better manage their energy thanks to the combination of energy and digital technologies.

And yet, this transformation is not without difficulties: the European carbon market has collapsed, renewable energies have been developed using support systems that are sometimes disproportionate, and the gas power stations that are needed for reliable energy supplies are gradually being decommissioned. At  ENGIE, we believe that the European Union needs to overhaul the European framework, making it more ambitious, more equitable, and more sustainable. This challenge is an outstanding opportunity to develop new sectors, create the jobs of the future, and of course to protect the environment.

The development of zero carbon energy requires major investments. What research programme are you currently working on?

I believe in a zero carbon energy mix based on diversified technology, and where every kind of energy has its place. This development is driven by the increasing miniaturisation of technology, the rapidly falling cost of renewables, and the invention of ground-breaking technologies. I am thinking in particular of electricity storage (whether in batteries or stored as hydrogen) that could completely change the way we manage the grid and harness intermittent renewable energies. Our research programmes therefore focus on new renewable energies – solar, sea, geothermal, etc. – as well as associated technologies like batteries.

What are the other sectors of the future?

When we think renewable, we all too often think of electricity, whereas there is also huge potential for thermal energy and heat. Take biomethane or renewable gas, for example: our aim is to reach 5% biomethane injected into the system in France by 2020.

The transition is also about smarter energy management. What are  ENGIE’s energy efficiency solutions?

Today, we are witnessing a strong trend towards individual responsibility, as consumer stakeholders. And this is the new challenge that we would like to surmount me. It is a question of providing energy improvements to buildings so that they consume less, possibly in combination with energy production solutions within the customer’s own home. Smart systems will then optimize the energy used within their homes.

This unstoppable movement is not only affecting Europe. What have you seen during your recent travels?

If I noticed anything it was that the energy transition is a global phenomenon. Of course, different problems need to be overcome in different places around the world, but the result is the same, and the energy revolution is in full swing. In Europe, it is primarily environmental concerns that push Member States to change the way they produce and consume energy.

In emerging economies with skyrocketing demand, the main concern is guaranteeing the energy supply. In Chile, the government has developed a framework to promote the development of LNG, renewables, electrical interconnections, and energy efficiency. In Thailand, where the challenge is to meet the increased energy needs of economic development goals, the country has launched an ambitious project that encompasses both energy efficiency and the development of sustainable energy. Lastly, in some places around the world, access to energy is a very real concern. This is true of isolated areas such as some of the Indonesian islands, and in cases such as this, it is essential to promote both the expansion of the main grid and to develop local solutions to supply isolated or sparsely populated areas.