“Requirements are becoming more complex”

Expert Interview – February 13, 2023

Smart meters, smart cities, green hydrogen. Energy supply companies are in the midst of a transformation process from a traditional energy business to sustainable services. Requirement are becoming more challenging; this is where collaborations could help in the future.

In this interview, Erik Höhne, Speaker of the Board and Head of Production, Finance, Commerce and Sales at the ENVERVIE Group and Mark-E Aktiengesellschaft, explains how his group of companies is tackling these challenges with innovative ideas, such as leasing the operational business of two municipal utilities.

Interview with Erik Höhne, Speaker of the Board, the ENERVIE Group

Mr Höhne, what are the challenges of the energy transition for Mark-E Aktiengesellschaft, especially in view of lower electricity sales in the future? How will your company benefit from the more efficient use of electricity?

Basically, we are facing the same challenges as all other utility companies. We have to deal with the changes driven by the energy transition, and with more dynamic energy markets. At the same time, our companies need the brightest people, which is not always easy in these times of talent crunch. Just like the ENERVIE Group as a whole, Mark-E sees the expansion of renewable energies – wind power and photovoltaics in particular – in our core region of South Westphalia as one of the main components for a successful energy transition. Until now, a swift expansion has been hindered by the legal conditions, something that is hopefully about to change. We also believe that we will be able to strengthen sales with our existing customer base and address new customer groups by moving into e-mobility more.

What are Mark-E’s new business models, and what are your plans for the next few years?

The energy transition has opened up new areas of business for us and will continue to do so – that’s true. Most recently, we expanded our activities in the field of energy services and e-mobility, and we have shifted our focus on the generation of electricity using renewable sources. On top of that, we have ongoing projects for smart meters, smart cities and hydrogen. In the medium to long term, we are planning to widen our range of services for private, commercial and industrial customers.

What role does digitalization play?

Digitalization plays a key role in our corporate strategy. As the most important energy service provider in North Rhine-Westphalia, we have created the comprehensive LoRaWAN grid through our grid company, ENERVIE Vernetzt. We are currently working on two subsidized projects with the cities of Hagen and Lüdenscheid, our two major shareholders. One project comes under the heading of klimakommune.digital, and other project is concerned with municipal traffic control. We have also continued our digitalization drive on the sales side by introducing a customer service app and a digital power app.

What does the Energy Transition Award 2022 mean for your company?

It means a lot! The Energy Transition Award clearly shows that our sustainable services have been fully integrated into our various product and service portfolios. It demonstrates that our transformation from a traditional energy business to sustainable energy solutions is already quite advanced.

What did the panel of judges like in particular?

Our award is in the energy efficiency category. According to the panel, the reason we were selected is our commitment to making the energy transition happen and our sustainability activities. Our online energy saving tools and the information provided on regulations and public subsidies as well as technologies are visible proof of our policy. Our energy consulting services, for instance through our Mark-E forums, also impressed the panel of judges.

Let’s get back to your digital electricity app. It shows real time energy consumption as well as the consumption of individual households. How does it work?

Device recognition is based on the analysis of energy consumption by measuring data second by second. Every home device has its own specific consumption curve, which depends on the device, manufacturer and age. For larger consumers, the algorithm recognizes these specific consumption patterns over time, which enables it to show consumption more accurately. Customers wanting to find out if the digital power app is for them can use the demo mode. All they have to do is download the app and click on “show demo”.

Digital power app displays electricity consumption in real time© Mark-E

You already have some experience with your customers’ response to your innovative products. What advice would you give to other municipal utilities wanting to get ready to benefit from the energy transition?

We believe that the known drivers as well as the changes in the energy markets will change the energy landscape. We can’t do “business as usual” any more – the requirements are becoming more complex, the challenges more varied. There is an increased pressure to cooperate. Mark-E is a pioneer in cooperation, having put into place a comprehensive leasing model with two regional municipal utilities. We signed a ten-year lease for the operational business of both utilities and also transferred the majority of their staff. As far as we are aware, this model is the first of its kind in Germany.

That sounds exciting! How do you benefit from this leasing model?

We strongly believe that both grid operation and sales still have synergy potential, so that we will be able to operate each area even more efficiently. What’s more, taking over the 10.000 customers of the municipal utilities of Plettenberg and Werdohl fits in perfectly with our growth strategy.

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