Reuters Goes All CleanTechnica On Solar Power & Utility Profits

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Revolution. Image Credit: Shutterstock
Revolution. Image Credit: Shutterstock
Reuters is a well known multinational news agency not exactly known as a political radical. It’s actually extremely neutral and “objective” (there’s really no such thing as objectivity in media coverage, but let’s not delve into that today). No offense to the notable news agency and its reporters, but its pieces are often about as dry as the U.S. Southwest has been in recent years.

So, I was a bit surprised to see Reuters delve into the threat renewable energy is providing to utility company profits in quite a similar way as CleanTechnica has done. I mean, frankly, the first two paragraphs of the recent post I’m referencing looked very similar to paragraphs from one or two of our recent articles. See if this looks familiar to you:

Every new solar panel installed on European rooftops chips away at power utilities’ centralized production model. Unless they reinvent themselves soon, these giants risk becoming the dinosaurs of the energy market.

The industry faces drastic change as renewable energy turns consumers into producers and hollows out the dominance of utilities. With their stocks at decade lows and a millstone of debt around their necks, Europe’s utilities have little margin for error.

Quite frankly, these are simple statements that reflect the reality of the situation today. But I haven’t seen them mentioned almost anywhere beyond sites like CleanTechnica — actually, I don’t think I’ve seen them mentioned anywhere beyond such sites! So, it was surprising and exciting to see that.

It’s also interesting (seems atypical of Reuters) that it included such colorful language as “these giants risk becoming the dinosaurs of the energy market” and “a millstone of debt around their necks.” Again, that just seems to go beyond the typical dry and “objective” language Reuters uses.

Anyway, the article is really a good one, so I’d recommend checking it out in full. I’ll just add one more extended quote here (note that this follows the more typical literary style of the news agency):

In Germany, where 22 percent of its electricity came from renewable sources in 2012, the big four utilities – E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall Europe – are nearly absent in this new sector.

Of the 71 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity installed at the end of 2011, the four owned just 7 percent, environment ministry data show. A gigawatt roughly corresponds to the capacity of one nuclear plant.

Individuals owned 40 percent of renewables capacity, energy niche players 14 percent, farmers 11 percent, various energy-intensive industrial companies 9 percent, and financial companies 11 percent. Small regional utilities and international utilities owned another 7 percent.

In the solar industry the big four are even more marginal, having ceded 97 percent to investors from outside the power industry, Lueneburg University researcher Mario Richter said.

“Utilities produce electricity, and here’s a new technology for producing electricity, and they are not in there. They have completely missed the opportunity,” Richter said.

Richter, who has interviewed 20 German utilities managers about the impact of renewables on their firms, said it has taken them years to acknowledge the potential of solar and wind.

In Bavaria alone, 200,000 of the 2.3 million electricity users have their own solar panels, turning 8.5 percent of electricity consumers there into independent producers.

In Italy and Spain, where solar also contributes around 3 percent of total power, the situation is similar to Germany.

In countries like France and the UK, with solar at just 0.4 and 0.1 percent of generation, centralized production still reigns supreme, but decentralized production by corporations and municipalities – with biomass and windmills – is eating into utilities’ market share.

Reuters certainly has the story correct. And it’s nice to see this important story getting picked up by the mainstream media and reaching more people. I’d recommend checking out the full Reuters piece for more good reporting, including the “Eroding Business Model” of utilities, “a real revolution” in electricity production, and the “winners in the power game.”

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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20 thoughts on “Reuters Goes All CleanTechnica On Solar Power & Utility Profits

  • As they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    • Yes. Of course, I’m hoping that someone there is reading CleanTechnica. But, even if not, happy that they at least got the info somewhere and decided it was a good story to run with!

  • soon…

  • And, just to rub it in, Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, is now advertising rooftop solar plus a range of other renewable products on my iGoogle page with a ‘7 year payback’ promise.

    • Wow, are you serious? That’s awesome. If you happen to be able to grab a screenshot of that, I’d love to see it.

      • Here is the relevant part of their website:
        I don’t know how the price stacks up to you but would say it looks pretty competitive for the UK.

        While I’m on, have just seen a piece on a UK national news channel about the failure so far to agree a mutually acceptable wattage price for a proposed French installation and the very real possibility that it won’t go ahead, much to the embarrassment of the UK government!

        • Thanks. Appreciate it. Regarding the French installation: that a solar one? or the nuclear one?

          • Nuclear.

    • Nice to know ! thank you for sharing !

  • I read the article with surprise as well
    Reuters is infamous over at Chevy volt forum for all the slanted bias ,
    EV bashing articles
    Maybe they hired some younger writers without crusted fossilized thought process

    • Yeah, the EV articles are horrible. I’ve been meaning to write a debunking reply to one for about a month.

  • I too had read the Reuters article. I would have commented there but the ad blocking software prevents me from using the Reuters login mechanism. Then there is the problem of Reuters being so plainly wrong on topics that I often seriously think about deleting their feeds.

    • Yeah, I had the same experience. 😀 I tried commenting a few times, but something kept interfering — guess it was one of my Chrome settings.

  • Hi, actually in Germany that is quite a big topic in the media. Over here with the End of Nuclear the utilitys are in big trouble. For those who know German: We are writing a lot about the Energiewende and its implications here

    • Thanks. Yes, we’ve been getting some good information from German insiders writing in English (including one of our writers). Exciting to see. I’d love to travel around Germany discussing the matter with people there in order to get an even better picture of the populous perspective and level of knowledge.

    • Pretty site. Love the design. Is that custom built? Or an available theme for purchase somewhere?

    • Thanks Benjamin. I think I’ll try to dust off and work on repairing my “german hat”.

  • Looks pretty good if Renewables are getting positive mainstream attention!

    But as far as utility scale solar: Utility Scale PV is not something to fight for. While it is better than FFs and Nuclear, PV is one of the best technologies to use for distributed generation and, until we have cheap and ubiquitous storage, we can only have so much PV capacity on the grid before it stops being beneficial. (This is because of the energy generation profile – producing the most during the day and nothing at night. While this is not the problem most make it out to be, it does establish a limit as to how much we can economical put to the grid, which is, the average noon-time demand – or, a heck of a lot. Even so, it is a limit.) With this, it would be ideal to use as much of this capacity in distributed set ups as possible.

    The Power generators should be focused on pump-up hydro and CSP for their dispatch-able nature and wind for the majority of the energy generation.

    If only politicians actually ran through the numbers and understood the engineering limits and benefits of each technology… Ah, one can dream…

      • Yeah, I’ve skimmed that report. While I agree with their base conclusion, they play very conservative on storage technology and limit themselves to “Electro-Chemical Storage” which makes storage less economical than I believe it will be by 2030.

        Even so, their final conclusion stands: it will likely be cheaper to “waste” some excess electricity in times of exceedingly high supply and low demand and have overbuilt generation capacity than to store that power for weeks or even months.

        With all of that said, we will almost always be in the same or better position with distributed generating capacity than with localized energy generation – fairly independent of what storage technology does. And actually distributive, smart storage only helps this situation.

        While it is definitely not a bad thing to build more PV, the OPTIMAL solution would be to make it all distributed. As these panels last at least 30 years, the decisions made now will likely effect us for the majority of our lifetime.

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