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A digital and sustainable champion – interview with Attila Kiss, CEO of E.ON Hungária

Attila Kiss will be one of the speakers of the Budapest Climate Summit, to be held on 9 October 2020.

Over the past months, European electric utility company E.ON was able to both protect the health of its employees and guarantee the security of supply. In particular, the coronavirus pandemic means an opportunity for E.ON Hungária to become more modern, more digitalised and to be more focused on sustainability and green energy.

CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Attila Kiss, Chairman and CEO of E.ON Hungária about what does it mean for the company to act sustainably and how are they preparing for the challenges of the 21st century.

Mr Kiss acknowledges that with many people working and studying from home, the company’s responsibility is even greater than usual to ensure that the electricity and gas supply – a prerequisite for these activities – is uninterrupted. 

“The challenge is to proceed with the repair and construction work so that the long-term goals can be delivered as well,” he says. “We are also prepared for the second wave of the pandemic and we have precise, accurate, detailed plans to deal with the upcoming difficulties.”

“Both the international E.ON Group and E.ON Hungária consider it particularly important to actively support economic recovery and to help the society to the best of our ability in these difficult times.” 

In addition to not introducing any austerity measures within the company, E.ON Hungária has decided not to reduce its network investments this year, but to increase it, which means also giving jobs to different partners and helping them stay afloat so that the people they employ don’t lose their jobs. 

“Besides, together with the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, we are exploring the possibility of involving more EU funds and launching even more projects,” continues Mr Kiss. “We feel a responsibility for the Hungarian society: recognising that digital education was a huge challenge for many indigent families, we supported The Hungarian Interchurch Aid with 50 million forints [140,000 euros] and we launched a complex, multi-month catch-up program together for 600 children. We try to help these kids so they can go back to school without suffering any disadvantages compared to their more fortunate peers.”

Earlier in May, Mr Kiss said that the pandemic won’t change the long-term trends of the market, digitalisation being one of these trends.

“I see it as a special challenge and opportunity that these days, right before our eyes, a new energy world is being built, a new future that is about electricity, digital solutions and connections.”

“I am proud to apply the latest digital tools and solutions extensively and continuously both in our daily corporate operations and the services we offer to our customers,” he continues.

According to him, the epidemic situation also showed that E.ON is one of the best-digitalised energy companies in Hungary. Overnight, it made it possible for its employees to work from home, except if they worked on the operation or network maintenance. In June E.ON Hungária launched a new mobile application, drivE.ON, which offers customers a convenient, customer-centric, state-of-the-art solution for using the company’s e-chargers with their mobile phones. Users can even chat with others via the app. Additionally, it is already natural for many to be able to pay their bills through the company’s customer service application.

Digital innovation is also ongoing in the field of network development: with the so-called machine vision technology, E.ON Hungária can scan the network with cameras mounted on drones and cars and it uses artificial intelligence to analyse the images, thus filtering out possible failures.

“One of the cornerstones of the new E.ON Hungária group is to be a highly digitalised company on an international level as well,” Mr Kiss highlights. “We also develop digital solutions for our customers and employees that are convenient, easy to use and make their lives significantly easier.”

Other than a digital champion, E.ON was also ranked 9th out of 50 global energy companies by the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA), thanks to the Group’s strong climate governance and commitment to delivering on its business model transition away from large-scale electricity generation and towards customer solutions.

“We clearly commit ourselves to act sustainably in all respect,” Mr Kiss explains.

“Acting sustainably means when making daily business decisions, we specifically consider the short- and long-term impacts on tangible and intangible resources and stakeholders. We consider the needs of the present generation and anticipate the needs of future generations.” 

In particular, E.ON is focusing on achieving the following targets: it intends to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions it can influence directly and to become carbon-neutral by 2040. It will reduce its Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 and by 100 per cent by 2040. It also aims to reduce its Scope 3 emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 and by 100 per cent by 2050. 

“These are ambitious goals, but I am sure we will reach them,” says Mr Kiss. “E.ON Hungária was always committed to a green, sustainable future and we do a lot in the company and outside of the company to come closer to our targets. The objectives of E.ON Hungária are in line with the commitments of E.ON.”

“The integration of [electricity distributor] ELMŰ is currently underway, also providing an opportunity to align the sustainability commitments of the companies, we are continuously working on that. The least we can achieve are the goals set by E.ON, but our ambition is to be at the forefront of international comparisons within the group.”

E.ON Hungária has already done a lot in recent years to create a more sustainable, greener future: this year the company finished its joint project with AUDI in Győr, a solar power plant installed on top of the car factory’s logistics centre, which is the largest of its kind in Europe. The company has also installed the first industrial-scale energy storage facility in Hungary.

“We are pioneers to make networks more flexible,” says Mr Kiss. “E.ON is participating with 15 partners from 10 countries in the EU-funded IElectrix energy project, which aims to develop competencies and products that support the establishment and operation of local energy communities. As part of this, E.ON Hungária is implementing two pilot projects for energy storage in Hungary, on the Dombóvár-Dúzs and Aszófő-Zánka network sections.”

Electromobility will also play an important role in the new energy world. The rules of the market are still being formed, there are already many players, competition is intensifying, but E.ON’s positions are good thanks to the investments of previous years. 

“So far, we haven’t just installed chargers,” points out Mr Kiss. “Our e-fleet service offers businesses and municipalities the use of electric cars on favourable terms, we also focus on electric scooter sharing, so we cover a significant spectrum of the area and will continue to do so.”

There are more than 20,000 electric cars are on the roads, more than a thousand charging stations are in operation and government programs are being launched to promote e-mobility. 

“There is a huge potential in the area and our goal is to fight for a strong market position in the coming years,” he continues. “We launched with a partner the Blinkee e-mobility solution in Budapest a few years ago and now we work to make this available in few other cities as well.”

E.ON has previously decided that it will focus on customer solutions, the operation and development of smart grids worldwide and the development and application of digital solutions that make our customers’ lives more convenient. Therefore, the power generation assets of E.ON have been separated and disposed of. Over the last 12 months, after E.ON has agreed internationally to acquire innogy, the deal is already having an impact on the Central Eastern European markets, for example E.ON Hungária acquiring Elmű-ÉMÁSZ and the Czech branch selling innogy SE’s entire electricity and gas retail business.

“We believe that the future is electric and digital, the energy of the future is electricity: it will drive our cars, solar panels will provide the energy needs of our houses and businesses,” explains Mr Kiss. “We consider the stable energy supply of our customers to be our basic task, but the new E.ON Hungária is much more than that: we want to be partners of our customers in making their lives more comfortable and energy-conscious by delivering the revolutionary changes currently taking place in the energy industry.”

Mr Kiss reveals that they have started the transformation of the company along with these goals. 

“We are in a fortunate position because, although the triggering point for the change was that E.ON has agreed internationally on the integration of innogy, we make our vision come true through this transaction,” he adds. “The new E.ON Hungária will have a geographically more focused service area, it will compete for customers, serve them, pay attention to sustainability and contribute to the success of the Hungarian economy.”

The huge changes taking place in the Hungarian electricity market have not been seen since privatisation. Last October E.ON Hungária announced that it will sell its network company in Eastern Hungary, E.ON Tiszántúli Hálózati and at the same time, the integration of ELMŰ group began. 

“We will sell ÉMÁSZ DSO and at the end of the process, MVM will acquire a 25 per cent stake in E.ON Hungária,” Mr Kiss announces. “This huge transformation is not possible without the support of my coworkers and the enthusiasm of the people in the company. I am fortunate to work with a team that is not only able to drive this change but together we can build one of the most successful energy companies in Hungary in the benefit of the customers.”

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