On May 3, 2016 Isabelle Kocher became CEO of Engie, the French multinational utility group. She is the only female CEO in the CAC 40 stock market index.
A market where everyone is now able to provide goods or services to a third party; where the boundary between producer and consumer is becoming blurred: that is the new sharing economy. This momentum is synonymous with economic and social progress, since it challenges the established positions of leading players across all sectors. It also creates a balance of power that is more favourable to consumers, who now have greater freedom of choice.
What will the sharing economy energy market look like? At first glance, energy seemed to be protected from this phenomenon of fundamental change in society. The massive investments necessary to operate, transport and distribute seemed to be within reach of only a few major international groups. How could individuals compete with major players, producing and marketing energy on their own?
And yet, a closer look reveals that the same underlying phenomenon of decentralised production, questioning of the established order, and the emergence of active consumers is at work in the world of energy – just like in that of the sharing economy.
The development of low-carbon or carbon-free energies, such as solar, wind and natural gas, combined with digital innovations and storage, is speeding up the decentralisation of power generation. The major facilities we know are gradually being replaced by a host of smaller players. Large groups must adapt to this new system where their customers (individuals, communities or companies) are able, like them, to generate power.
The radical questioning of the present stasis does not stop with major energy companies. The development of renewable energies, especially solar, will enable developing countries (in particular those without fossil fuels) to break free from their energy dependence on producing countries. Accordingly, an overthrow of the current geopolitical order is taking shape, where energy dependence between countries will be abolished and access to development facilitated.
I am convinced that solar energy is the tipping point of the future ecosystem. It is a free, unlimited and inappropriable resource; it is the energy source that will most quickly provide universal access to energy. It is also the energy source that best meets the requirements of the sharing economy, since it can be developed on a very small scale and fosters auto-consumption.
That is why, a few months ago, ENGIE became the founding member of a strong, unprecedented initiative that I am honoured to chair: the Terrawatt Initiative (TWI). This global non-profit organisation will work with the International Solar Alliance and its Member states to establish the necessary conditions for the massive rollout of competitive solar power production.
The Terrawatt Initiative will involve citizens extensively, because I am fully convinced that the widest possible involvement – open to well-intentioned men and women – is necessary to build a fairer and more cohesive society. That is why I am joining forces with key figures to organise the first global solar power day in Paris on 20 June 2017.
As in the other sectors affected by the sharing economy revolution, civic engagement will be essential. In particular, I believe it is crucial that women help to build this new world. Women are the first to be affected by the effects of climate change, as reminded by UN Women. The scarcity of natural resources, triggered by global warming, forces them to spend more time on certain tasks, such as gathering wood and fetching water. It traps them in a housekeeping role and limits their possibilities. As such, women will be the first to benefit from a democratised energy system and the rollout of renewable energies.
More generally, the benefits will be priceless for the some 1.3 billion people with no access to energy. The Africa Energy Outlook 2014 report published by the International Energy Agency reiterates the many positive effects of stable and quality access to energy: the development of transport infrastructure, communication, urban heating, public lighting, water treatment, the boom in craft and commercial activities, and more. These infrastructures are a prerequisite for the establishment of modern and effective public health and education systems. In addition, a quality system ending frequent power cuts would help to improve the productivity of companies, thereby increasing wealth creation and distribution. As such, access to energy is the cornerstone of continuous and sustainable improvement in people’s living standards.
The emancipation of women and communities in developing countries could be the final step in the reversal of traditional roles through the energy revolution under way.
Meet Isabelle Kocher Wednesday, 30 November, in a keynote session at 18:45 during the Opening Dinner at the 2016 Women’s Forum Global Meeting in Deauville.