Engie, formerly GDF Suez, owns 40% of NuGen, the Company which wants to build three new nuclear reactors at Moorside in Cumbria, next to Sellafield. Yet Engie is fully aware that “the future is going to be much more about decentralized energy”. As Greenpeace Belgium says it’s time for Engie to be consistent and get the hell out of nuclear power.
Engie is not a household name in the UK but the £32bn French company is one of our largest power generators and business energy suppliers. It was formed in 2008 by the merger of Gaz de France and Suez, and is roughly one third owned by the French State.
As well as owning 40% of the NuGen joint venture with struggling ToshibaWestinghouse, it is also the parent company of the Belgian utility, Electrabel, which operates all seven of Belgium’s nuclear reactors, but only owns half of Tihange 1; 89.8% of Tihange 2&3 and Doel 3&4; and 100% of Doel 1&2.
Surprisingly Engie employs 20,000 people in the UK. It is the UK’s eighth biggest foreign employer. For instance it runs catering, cleaning and district heating services at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary hospital. It is also Britain’s eighth biggest electricity generator, pumping 5% of its gas and making revenues of £3.7 billion in the UK in 2014.
The Chief Executive of Engie UK, Wilfrid Petrie, says “It’s very difficult today to build a new power plant [in the UK] with current market conditions”. Instead, the Company offers localised services that could include installing insulation, district heating and solar panels on existing buildings as well as supplying gas and electricity. “We see the emergence of a new type of organisation within cities,” he says. Engie, he believes, can build on its relationships with councils and other commercial customers to expand its British business by developing local, decentralised energy in urban areas, where demand is high. “We don’t want to sell a huge amount of energy. Our big focus is on the demand side. The future is going to be much more about decentralized energy,” he says.
Engie won the contract to power the Olympic Park in East London and has been using this as an opportunity to turn its energy supply business on its head and create a model which is being quietly rolled out across the UK from Whitehall to Leeds. The Olympic site includes two energy centres and a network of over 11 miles of pipe work and a small fleet of biomass boilers, combined heat and power plants and water storage units. Petrie explains that biomass provides the steady baseload power needed throughout the day by burning waste wood sourced from UK landscapers. To meet peak demand the energy can also be stored in hot water tanks which are topped up using combined and heat and power boilers which run on gas. As a result the Olympic Park is able to generate 75% of its own energy with carbon emissions 20% lower than the rest of the UK while using smart technology to keep costs low.
The company is one of the leaders in a trend which seeks to disrupt the traditional energy supply model. Instead of focusing on large, expensive power plants based far from the customers it supplies, Engie starts with the customer and builds so-called ‘decentralised’ energy systems to fit. This decentralised energy model works because it has the flexibility to provide bespoke solutions to directly meet local needs. The Olympic Park scheme, for instance, is different to Engie’s Whitehall district energy scheme.
The company has built a growing network of district heating and electricity, powered by its own onsite boilers and combined heat and power (CHP) units such as the Southampton District Energy Scheme which is supplemented with Geothermal Energy; it is developing a new district heating network with Cheshire East Council which will focus on low and zero carbon sources of heat, including geothermal energy; in July it signed a power purchase agreement with Equitex to buy all the electricity generated by a new CHP plant in Wrexham; and in March it was awarded a contract to construct, operate and maintain gas-fired CHP energy centres for three NHS Trusts in Liverpool, as well as carrying out site-wide upgrades to energy-consuming equipment.
Petrie says the future of the British energy industry will be in these kinds of “distributed energy networks”, which are localised and low carbon. Engie is soon to launch a new retail operation which it will run through joint ventures with local councils in big urban areas such as London, Birmingham, Southampton and Coventry. As well as gas and electricity, Engie would provide consumers with bundled energy services, which could include district heating from a centralised location, or piped hot and cold water for heating and cooling, as well as insulation, energy-efficiency products and small-scale generation in the form of solar panels or wind turbines.
Petrie points to the recent launch of Robin Hood Energy, an energy supplier launched by Nottingham city council, as an example of the kind of services that Engie could offer alongside local authorities. Nottingham provides district heating to thousands of homes and is developing a small-scale renewable power station using solar panels and woodchips.
Engie has understood for a while now that “the future is going to be much more about decentralized energy”. Greenpeace Belgium says it is time now for the Company to be consistent and get the hell out of nuclear power. (8) We should be calling on Engie in the UK to do the same and give up on NuGen and drop its plans to take a 40% share in Europe’s largest proposed new nuclear development.
Please write to:
40 Holborn Viaduct
And tell him to get Engie out of nuclear.