Earth, Wind, and Power Player
Anja-Isabel Dotzenrath, CEO of RWE Renewables, oversees 3,500 employees across APAC, Europe and the U.S. and puts employee well-being and health and safety as her number one priority. Anja has utilized her foundational training as an engineer to lead RWE Renewables to help solve the world’s environmental problems, and is encouraged by trends in Floating offshore wind, hydrogen and energy storage.
At what point in your life did you feel compelled to play a role in creating a more sustainable future?
During the 1970s and ’80s the phenomenon called acid rain was one of the most well‐known environmental problems in Europe and North America, appearing frequently in the news. I started to realize then that our world as we know it and the future we want were at risk. My insight on the importance of sustainability topics grew over time. I am an electrical engineer by training and motivated by the benefits of technology development. I am driven by thoughts on how new energy technology can contribute to carbon neutrality, access to energy, and also affordability.
How has your experience working and living in multiple countries with diverse approaches to energy policy and sustainability shaped your perception of how the world can move towards a more sustainable global society?
If I look around the world it is evident that mental models regarding how we live and how we do business are changing. 2015 was a decisive year. The Sustainable Development Goals, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement were adopted that year. This is tangible proof that we can find global solutions to global challenges.
Yet what is also true is that despite considerable efforts we are not on track to achieve the 2030 goals.
The COVID‐19 pandemic, with the ongoing health and economic crises, should be used as a catalyst to get the world on a more sustainable track and accelerate efforts towards climate‐neutrality. Look at what is currently happening in Europe. As we speak, the debates in Brussels on the stimulus package – is a chance to shape the stimulus package to drive sustainability.
The efforts to stimulate economic activity which are being developed now will shape of our economies and lives for the foreseeable future. This decade will be decisive for people and our planet. We as individuals, corporations, and governments need to stay fully committed.
How has COVID‐19 impacted your business, and what actions have you taken as a leader to help RWE come out of this crisis strong?
We are relieved that our staff was not heavily affected by the virus so far. Of course, running a business across so many different countries in APAC, Europe and the Americas demands we stay alert. The developments in the US for example are very worrying.
We are responsible for our people but also for society because producing electricity is critical. RWE has a culture of working flexibly and remotely as we are an international organization that works in global teams. That helped us in the crises as we had the necessary digital infrastructure already in place to have the vast majority of the workforce work from home.
It is also important for me to focus on the mental well‐being of our teams in such special times. The lack of in‐person interactions for our colleagues can lead to feelings of isolation and distress. Additional stressors like taking care of kids, or vulnerable family members have to be taken into account. We have provided maximum flexibility for our colleagues ‐ work from anywhere, anytime. Also, post COVID‐19 this will become the new normal.
On the project side, we have some minor delays because of supply chain disruptions, and we are working very closely and collaboratively with our suppliers to find solutions.
This decade will be decisive for people and our planet.
What are your top priorities as CEO of RWE Renewables?
My number one priority is Health and Safety. That is why we implemented a management system focused on “Zero Harm.”
Given that we are in a post‐merger situation, cultural integration is another priority. At RWE Renewables, three corporate cultures come together: former E.ON, former innogy and RWE. The task is to weld together 3,500 highly qualified and motivated colleagues to form a new team aligned via the same purpose and goals, and to create an inspiring company culture.
From a shareholder and external societal perspective, we will be measured by how well we manage to deliver on our ambitious renewables growth targets and our contribution to the energy transition.
RWE has a goal of carbon neutrality by 2040 ‐ do you see this as attainable? What will be the biggest hurdles to getting there?
It is more than a goal – it is embedded in RWE’s purpose: ‘Our Energy for a Sustainable Life’. It means much more than the energy we produce, it is the energy everybody at RWE puts in every day to make the energy transition happen.
It’s backed by a clear plan: RWE has already lowered its CO2‐emissions since 2012 by more than 50%. In 2030 it will be minus 75%, and by 2040 climate neutrality will be reached.
The whole company is united and committed to this plan – colleagues in conventional generation as well as in the renewables business.
Out of all of RWE’s R&D projects, like thermal storage, hydrogen, geothermal and more, which do you see as having the greatest likelihood of taking off and making a scaled impact?
I would name three technologies: floating offshore wind, battery storage, and hydrogen. All of them are key to deliver full decarbonization of the energy system.
Offshore wind will be key in many regions around the world to decarbonize the energy system as there is simply not enough land available. In the E.U. for example, 450 GW of offshore wind has to be built by 2050. Floating offshore is needed to access areas for renewables production where water depth limits the potential for fixed bottom solutions, such as in Japan or the West Coast of the U.S. and where demand for renewables capacity in the future will require installs in very far offshore areas.
Battery storage is important to balance the intermittent character of renewables over shorter periods (up to a few hours), stabilize the grid (T&D deferral), as well as foster sector coupling with the transport sector.
Green hydrogen will be key to foster decarbonization in the industry, and serve for the long term balancing of intermittent renewables production, one example is the summer winter shift.
RWE is well positioned in all these fields and willing to take the challenges.
Energy is the key to economic development and to human and social well-being.
How does RWE set itself apart from its competitors?
RWE Renewables masters four technologies at scale: offshore wind where we are number two in the world, onshore wind, solar and battery storage. It is a good starting position to be one of the world's largest producers of green electricity. Scale matters in this business.
We are fully integrated along the value chain from origination of projects to engineering, commercialization, construction to self‐perform operations, so we can address all value pools to produce clean electricity as competitively as possible.
We are disciplined and focused with regards to where we invest. We are active in 20 countries with strong fundamentals in terms of market size, growth, political and regulatory stability and solid energy market design. We want to build sizable positions in every market we operate in to realize economies of scale.
Lastly, we have a 22 GW pipeline and the financial means to profitably grow. By the end of 2022 we will invest €5 billion net. Together with partners, our investment budget could reach up to €9 billion over the next three years.
What advice do you have for women seeking leadership roles in sustainability focused fields?
In many aspects the same rules apply to women as to men: you need to prove yourself, stretch yourself, look for new challenges to develop and grow. This means working in different functions, different companies and different countries to nurture an open and global mindset.
I would always encourage women in particular to look at the leadership of a company. How diverse is it?
Are there sufficient credible examples of women who made it into leadership roles?
What's a trend in sustainability that excites you?
I am particularly passionate about decarbonizing the energy sector. Energy is the key to economic development and to human and social well‐being.
The share of renewables in electricity generation is increasing quickly. Yet the use of renewables for heat and transportation remains limited. Scaling of green hydrogen and storage technologies, and electrification of energy end uses are the next “big thing“ and will become the drivers of decarbonization in the energy sector.
We also need to put more emphasis on providing access to energy. Energy poverty remains extensive. According to current estimates, there will still be 700 million people in 2040 without access to electricity and billions of people are relying on solid fuels for cooking. Changing this – based on renewable energy – would be a major step.
Who is your sustainable hero and why?
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European commission, for her ambition to make the E.U. the world's first climate neutral continent by 2050. The Green Deal can be a major step towards this target.
About Sustainable Heroes
Join us on a journey into the hearts and minds of some of today’s greatest heroes, who have dedicated themselves to positively impact tomorrow’s world. We invite you to explore with us what makes these heroes tick, what drives them to overcome arduous trials and immense challenges, known and unknown. In this issue, we pay homage to global leaders accelerating the sustainable transformation – all of whom share the goal of fighting climate change and creating a sustainable world that is more resilient and lower carbon intensive. We encourage you on your own quest for ways to innovate, embrace sustainability and do the right thing. Become a heroine or hero to others and help us together solve the problems threatening our very survival. To each of you heroes and heroines, there is a brighter, more sustainable future that we can build together for future generations. We welcome nominations for people you’d like to see featured in future editions. Please send your nominations and other comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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