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Utility Week 24th February 2017

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UTILITY WEEK | 24TH FEBRUARY - 2ND MARCH 2017 | 7 Interview G ood Eon vs bad Eon, clean Eon vs dirty Eon, green Eon vs brown Eon – whichever way you look at it, the caricatures drawn by the press to describe the two companies which emerged aer Eon was split apart didn't cast a positive light on the business now known as Uniper. Felix Lerch, an Eon veteran and now chairman of Uni- per UK, shrugs off the epithets. "I don't like labels," he tells Utility Week. A lean, clean-cut German with 20 years of oil and gas industry experience, which includes international busi- ness development roles as well as highly technical jobs, Lerch is well equipped to lead the Eon spin-off of conven- tional generation, trading and gas storage. And he's keen to set the record straight about Uniper's role in a decar- bonising, decentralising energy world. Far from clinging to a fading era of big, fossil-fuel powered plant, Uniper, says Lerch, is a progressive company, and an essential player in the energy transi- tion. "We ensure the energy transition taking place," he insists. "Without a company like ours it would be very difficult to keep the lights on. Look at wind energy: the efficiency and availability is around 30 per cent – about a third – so what about the other two-thirds? You need something that delivers energy when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining," he points out of the window of his central London office to a conveniently bleak, grey and motionless sky. It's a solid argument, and few in the energy industry would disagree that the decarbonisation of energy gen- eration must be achieved in an "orderly" way. But one day, that transition period must come to an end. What then for Uniper? Lerch leaps on the suggestion that the company has a limited shelf life. "No, it is a long-term company," he says. "We are a listed company and we need to be – and are – investing in our future. Take our battery projects [schemes in Germany to test the feasibility of large-scale lithium and lead battery types]. The full capabilities of batteries are still in the very early stages. We are looking at the different technologies to see which will best meet the needs of the energy market in the future." But it's not just batteries which will ensure Uniper's raison d'être of delivering security of supply survives aer its existing assets come off the system. The com- pany has a keen eye on markets outside Europe, where energy systems have different needs. India, for example, is a growth opportunity. Likewise, there are areas out- side conventional energy system thinking where Uni- per might play a role – for instance, in producing green hydrogen to decarbonise transport. The business has struck a partnership with BP to explore this avenue. It all sounds very dynamic, but doesn't it set Uniper up to crash into many of the areas its erstwhile owner has also targeted? Eon – which still holds a minority stake in Uniper – is also working on ways to turn surplus renewable energy into hydrogen and has leaped eagerly on the energy storage bandwagon. Lerch is nonchalant about the collision course. "One day, yep, we might compete against Eon. Good. Bring it on… we will compete with other companies. That is not an issue. I look forward to competition." The response has a nice, maverick ring to it. But a lit- tle conversation about Uniper's competitive outlook soon confirms Lerch is far from being the energy system's next dissident entrepreneur. If he has one guiding mantra, it

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