Covid-19 Implications for Energy: Interview with Dr.-Ing. Leo Birnbaum

29th May 2020


Covid-19 Implications for Energy: Interview with Dr.-Ing. Leo Birnbaum

Dr.-Ing. Leo Birnbaum currently serves as Chief Operating Officer – Integration and Member of the Board of Management of E.ON SE, as well as Chair of the World Energy Council Studies Committee.

What are the lessons that you have learned at this stage of the crisis in your country/region? Are there any crisis management tips you would like to share with our global community?

In a real crisis, things are simply done that otherwise seem impossible. The speed at which we have shifted to a virtual way of life was unimaginable to us before. This is true for our company processes, but also for society in general. Take home-schooling, for example – if it were not for the necessary shift due to the crisis, it would have taken years to start a virtual shift even just for online tests.

The second tip I would include is this: it is easy to stop something; it is tough to restart it afterwards.

Lastly, you need to work hard in identifying the opportunities in the crisis. Crisis management is not about getting back to normal ASAP. It is about identifying the new (and maybe better) normal afterwards and prepare your organization for it.

Do you expect society, the economy and energy systems to return to business-as-usual quickly or will there be a ‘new normal’ after the crisis is over? If the latter, what will a ‘new normal’ look like?

Obviously, there will be a new normal. We will not forget this shock. And we will have wasted many of our financial resources that will not be available afterwards.

However, I struggle to predict now what the new normal will be. 

What do you expect will be the legacy of Covid-19 and the impact on climate change policies?

Resilience will become a key topic. The repercussions from that still need to be understood, including global supply chains, global cooperation, less rigid measure of cost reduction in purchasing, and more.

What is unclear to me is the role of climate change as a theme in the rebuilding after the crisis; it may be key, but it might still lose priority given the amount of resources gone forever.

Less democratic States may possibly find it easier to seize the opportunities offered by economic restart towards innovation and future orientation.

Is the coincidence of pandemic and oil-price crisis a perfect storm for fossil fuels? Will capacities get removed that do not come back afterwards?

In your opinion, could Covid-19 be a pivot point for accelerating energy transition?

It is not impossible – pressure on conventionals has risen significantly; investments into conventionals might be further challenged; thus, an acceleration is possible through capital and financial markets. However, general limitations in capital might hinder significant reorientation.

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