Wilfrid Petrie gestures out of a car window. “Look, there’s an Engie van!” The timing could hardly have been better, with the chief executive of the French energy group’s British business on a whistle-stop tour of a social housing estate in Leeds that offers an apt illustration of what his company does. The Holbeck estate and two others in the city were regenerated between 2013 and 2017 under a £200 million private finance initiative agreement by Keepmoat, which Engie bought last year. Old tower blocks were knocked down and smart terraced houses built in their place, buildings were clad with insulation and solar panels installed on rooftops and the vans are part of Engie’s 20-year contract to maintain and manage these 1,800 properties, including the gardening. “This,” Mr Petrie says, “is where we are different to everyone else. We believe the future of energy is in being able to reshape places.” Despite employing 17,000 people in the UK and generating £3.3 billion of revenues last year, Engie is hardly a household name. “We are better known today in local government than by the general public.” Mr Petrie is more at home discussing his vision for why merging Engie’s diverse business strands makes sense in light of the trends he sees in the energy sector. First, he predicts, the future of energy is in services. Nobody wants to buy a certain number of kilowatt-hours of energy, he declares; they want to buy the outcome, to have their building heated to a certain temperature, say. Second, “energy will become increasingly embedded in buildings and places”; big, old centralised power plants are being replaced by small-scale generation, such as rooftop solar. Third, there is “a need for renewable and flexible energy” at a local and national level. And fourth, “things are going to be much more data-driven through connected devices”.
Times 28th July 2018 read more »