Interview Of The Week

Interview Of The Week: Victoria Ossadnik, E.ON

Victoria Ossadnik is a member of the Executive Board of E.ON, one of the world’s largest investor-owned electric utility service providers, and is responsible for the Group’s digital technology and in-house consulting. Ossadnik, who has a PhD in physics, began her professional career as COO at Scanlab, a maker of laser scan systems, and then worked at CSC Ploenzke AG, a consulting and IT services company, including two years as CEO of the joint venture division. In 2003 she became a member of the management of Oracle Germany, overseeing technology consulting for Northern Europe. From 2011 to 2015 she was a member of the  board of management of Microsoft Germany. Ossadnik later took on responsibility for the enterprise service data and artificial intelligence organization of Microsoft Corp. In 2018, she joined the E.ON Group as CEO of E.ON Energie Deutschland. Ossadnik, a speaker at  DLD Circular in Munich on September 7, recently spoke to The Innovator about E.ON’s digital transformation and its sustainability efforts.

Q: How far is E.ON in its digital journey?

VO: There are a lot of different journeys that are contributing to E.ON’s transformation into a sustainable and digital energy business. Overall, I’d say we are midway. We have two pillars. One is customer solutions and the other is our grid business and they are at different stages. In customer solutions we have heavily digitalized our services. We have moved 10 million customers onto cloud-based digital platforms in Germany and the UK. Given our size and variety of customers we are in a good place.  It is clear that we are on an exciting journey, moving toward sustainability, which, in the energy world, means moving from predictable production sources to diverse sources that are less predictable. For our grids  it means factoring in wind and solar and prosumers as well as coping with consumers moving to e-mobility and heating with electricity. Nobody knows what the load pattern will look like. If you look at most of the countries in which we operate they have all pledged to be carbon- neutral in the relatively near future, which will require a complete change in consumption and in addition a complete change in supply, raising complexity. This can only be managed through digitalization because our grid needs to become smart enough to balance all these diverse behaviors in power generation and it will also need to be able to react to the new ways consumers are behaving. Access to the data from smart meters is crucial to our ability to balance the grid. We have now installed more than 8 million smart meters throughout Europe. In some countries we are already installing second generation meters. Others, like Germany, are still lagging behind mainly due to lengthy bureaucratic processes..

Q:   Harnessing Artificial Intelligence to Accelerate the Energy Transition, a report released last week by the World Economic Forum, reviews the state of play of AI adoption in the energy sector and outlines high priority applications for how AI can accelerate the transition to low-carbon energy future. It says market designs and regulatory frameworks need to be created that allow AI use cases to capture the value they create. For example, permitting the use of smart meter data when aggregated and anonymized. Do you agree?

VO: Clearly the more data and analytics we can get from smart meters the better. The availability of data is crucial for a successful energy transition. We need regulators help to make that happen in a way that grants us access while securing the required data protection. 

Q: The report says AI could accelerate the energy transition but points out that most energy companies are still mainly using the technology for predictive maintenance. How is E.ON’s usage of AI evolving?

VO: In addition to weather forecasts, we use AI for predictive maintenance, which has a lot of value because it allows you to use equipment in a much better way, but there are even stronger use cases. The biggest challenge is balancing the complex energy world with generation and consumption. There AI can play a big role. And, when it comes to predicting consumer behavior, the more smart meters we have, the better we will get on that. We are also starting to make more use of digital twin data to simulate a lot of stuff that could make our network more resilient and future proof.

Q:  What do you see as your biggest challenges?

VO: Once we digitalize and connect more data, we can better control when we store energy and when we use it. But we also have to pay even more attention to cybersecurity. We are spending a lot of efforts in this area already today. To prepare for the future we are also working with IBM on quantum computing so that we will have the ability to optimize the grid when, for example, 100,000s inhabitants of Berlin try to recharge their electric vehicles and the sun is not shining. How would we direct people to ensure grid stability? This is a super complex question as many things are happening in parallel. If we agree that a stable grid is important then we need reliable prediction on consumption data. This means data needs to be shared, this is essential. Of course, data protection is non-negotiable, but in some places data protection laws are making things so difficult that no one dares install smart meters. We need clear guidelines on which data can be used for which purpose. The second thing is there needs to be a willingness to invest seriously in energy infrastructure. E.ON is taking this on, but we need regulators to help to ensure that there is a business case. And thirdly, a change of mindset is also needed in many places, on the part of energy company employees, regulators and politicians. Everyone needs to understand that if we don’t digitalize, we won’t have sustainable energy. If we are serious and our governments are serious about becoming carbon neutral then we need to focus on three things: sustainability, digitalization, and growth.

Q: How are your preparing your own employees for the transition?

VO: For the past few years E.ON has been educating  employees about the importance of data and embracing data as part of our company culture, for example through our programs Data.On and Digital.On. These programs laid the foundations. Now it is really about the next steps. There is a lot of know-how available throughout our various subsidiaries. Therefore, another important task is to promote knowledge exchange within the company in order to scale innovations and solutions.

Q: What’s on the agenda now?

VO: Our only way into the future is a deep conviction that we must take responsibility for creating a sustainable energy system, but we can’t make that change without digitalizing, starting with the consumer side. We think consumers should be able to track their consumption of C02. Secondly, we can help consumers become proactive consumers by providing B2C software to control their energy use and make their own choices. We are also rapidly growing our energy solutions for cities. In the UK, for example, E.ON has signed a 50-year agreement to provide clean energy to the UK’s first smart commercial campus called Gravity that’s entirely committed to making zero-carbon energy a reality. As part of the agreement, E.ON will provide the campus with integrated power, heating and cooling systems as a replacement for the standard utility grid connection. If you look at the smaller players in our sector the challenge for them is becoming bigger and bigger. We can help them tackle the issues and get prepared because we are in a good position and are moving relatively fast compared to the market. That said, there are a lot of things we don’t know. Telecommunication operators, car manufacturers, energy, chemical and gas companies are all in the middle of a transition and we need to discuss and learn from each other if we want the world to meet sustainability targets.

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About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.