In January 2021, E.On announced that it had acquired a 49% share of residential and commercial solar energy company Eco2Solar, expanding the utilities solar offering.
Solar Power Portal caught up with E.On’s Chris Lovatt, chief operating officer for energy infrastructure services – who is taking a place on Eco2Solar’s board as part of the investment – to discuss the investment, residential solar and the drive for decarbonisation.
Could you tell me a little about E.On’s previous work in residential solar?
E.On has had a solar offering for customers going back many years – primarily offering solutions to our domestic and business customers as a retrofit option. In fact, as part of the wider E.On Group we are one of the largest solar installers in Europe.
In the business space we’ve fitted large scale solar to buildings including the ACC Liverpool, one of a range of on-site solutions we can manage for industrial and commercial clients, including CHP, heat pumps and flexibility systems.
Was there any particular reason E.On chose to target residential solar now?
It does feel like we’re reaching a tipping point. The policy world is moving, what with the new energy white paper, the government’s Ten Point Plan and the fact customer demand is now very much there – not just solar but electric vehicles, batteries, heat pumps and smarter homes and cities.
As we’ve seen from recent policy and planning reforms, from 2025 new homes must be built ‘zero carbon ready’ with high levels of energy efficiency and low carbon heating systems instead of gas boilers. The Future Homes Standard will see the average home produce at least 75% lower carbon emissions than one built to current standards and all parts of the industry will have to be ready to build to higher specifications – with all the necessary supply chains, installers and products in place.
The UK needs to push on at speed if we’re to meet our ambitious zero carbon targets, with both the houses we live in now and the ones we will build for the future proving key to achieving those goals. That’s because the UK’s homes – specifically how we build them and then how we heat them – are the country’s second highest emitters of carbon.
And while existing homes can be better insulated or made more efficient and sustainable, it is at the construction stage where the easiest victories can be won, and won at scale.
Will the investment lead to any organisational changes for Eco2Solar?
We’ve invested in the future success of Eco2Solar so right now we envisage very little change in the day-to-day running of the business – mainly for the reason that they are clearly successful in what they are doing. We have a seat on the Board which will allows us to spot opportunities to support one another but fundamentally Paul [Hutchens, CEO of Eco2Solar] and his team are doing a fantastic job, and that was one of the main reasons why we were so interested in building a relationship with them.
E.On said the move will mean more ‘new homes being built with greater sustainability from the outset’, why is this significant in comparison to retrofits?
This past year has given us all a chance to pause, take stock, and revisit what is important to us. 72% of respondents to a social media poll in 2020 said lockdown had inspired them to live their lives more sustainably. The housing market has continued to boom in 2020, despite the pandemic, and purchasing behaviour is unlikely to change going forward. A healthy housing market and a desire for a more sustainable future creates a potent mix, which those looking to build and sell houses would be wise to sit up and pay attention to.
Will Eco2Solar also take over installations of EV charging and battery storage?
Nothing changes for either company in the short term but Eco2Solar’s relationships with developers opens up conversations and they will continue to understand what their customers need and where we can try to help them fulfil it.
How do these technologies fit into E.On’s decarbonisation plans?
E.On is committed to – we would argue we are driving – the energy transition, by providing smart, personalised and sustainable solutions to customers at home, in business, and across entire communities. Both E.On and Eco2Solar are working towards similar ambitions and believe that together we have what it takes to play a vital role in decentralised energy for generations to come.
To give you a sense of scale in our ambitions, and what we can achieve with a single-minded purpose, I’d look back at our role in the UK’s renewable revolution. We installed our first wind farm nearly 30 years ago. When we built the London Array it was the world’s largest offshore wind farm. Having invested more than £3.3 billion over the last decade we’ve helped develop upstream renewables to the point where they can more than compete against fossil fuels.
We see the next challenge at the customer level. Instead of a small number of organisations making big decisions on large generation projects, the future opportunity lies in millions of people making a decision to change their lives to help tackle the climate crisis.