Monday 2 August 2021 6:30 am

E.ON chief exec: energy companies need to step up to the net zero challenge and take responsibility

Michael Lewis is Chief Executive of E.ON UK

Unless the UK takes a large number of brave and radical measures in this decade, our ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 will just be a pipe dream.

It will also mean Britain will miss out on the business and social benefits of a green economy, which would otherwise lay the foundations of prosperity for the future.

We have made progress, especially as more and more sources of renewable energy have been developed in the UK. It is, of course, right to have an aspiration. But it’s not enough. Boris Johnson set a target to increase heat pump installations to 600,000 a year by 2028, that’s twenty times the current number in just seven years’ time. The hands of businesses are tied until Government takes action to drive demand. Many people have understandably balked at the cost of changing their boiler and are naturally hesitant of change.

Many of these changes need to be drive by Government. We need stronger and simpler policies which will have high impact. There needs to be clear guidance to homeowners, in the same way we give to businesses and city planners, so they know when boilers need to be changed – and they can get them changes. This will provide clarity to manufacturers on when the production of gas boilers must cease.

The automotive industry know when they are expect to stop selling diesel and petrol cars. The same must be done for boilers. Building regulations need to be updated so all new properties are built to net zero standards, and there must be a framework to protect the competitiveness of British industry internationally, while still driving business to reduce emissions.

The rest of the UK – particularly the energy sector – needs to take a more assertive leadership position. Rapid decarbonisation of the electricity grid was the start, but the next stage is increasingly people-based, transforming the energy sector at the customer level.

Energy companies know exactly how much work still needs to be done. We’ve created a new supply business, E.ON Next, with energy specialists looking after dedicated pools of customers to prevent the continual “computer says no” or “I’ll transfer you to the relevant department”. We hope customers will find us easier to talk to, have a better experience and ultimately find it easier to choose a sustainable way to meet their energy needs.

All energy providers – us included – must continue to evolve like this if we’re going to see necessary progress towards a zero carbon world, to emulate Tesla in generating the aspiration and awareness of electric vehicles at a mass consumer level. It’s a hearts and minds campaign that needs to run for decades, but it also needs drastic action now to create the necessary momentum in demand and supply. 

Ask anyone on the street whether they want their children to grow up in a UK which is more sustainable, which has cleaner energy and clearer air. The answer will invariably be “yes”. We all need to take responsibility, as we will be the ones held to account in decades’ time if we are thought to have taken insufficient action when it was needed most.

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