Germany's largest power utility, E.ON, is getting out of the fossil fuels business. The move is less for the sake of the environment than the company's own survival, writes DW's Henrik Böhme.
Well, that certainly wasn't intentional: right before the start of this year's World Climate Conference in Lima, Peru, Germany's biggest energy supplier, E.ON, bid farewell to its coal and nuclear power operations.
It certainly wasn't a concern for the environment that moved the board room of the Dusseldorf-based concern to reach this decision. More likely it was the giant mountain of debt, under which the company was in danger of collapsing.
That debt came from a time when the energy giant was so prosperous that it spent money left and right on its worldwide shopping sprees. At that time, no one in the company's board room in Düsseldorf worried about the future. From their perch in their magnificent headquarters, they preferred to look right over the builders of wind and solar-power installations and their problems.
Their own power plants, especially the nuclear ones, were reliably producing energy and handsome returns.
Energy revolution has consequences
Then, in 2011, came Japan's Fukushima meltdown. The government in Berlin reacted by decreeing an exit from nuclear energy. Germany's energy revolution was born.
Since then, the world has kept a close eye on this country, wondering whether one of the world's great economies could produce electricity and heat not from coal and nuclear power, but solely from wind, sun and water?
Now, it's not that the movers and shakers at E.ON and other major utilities RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall, have turned a blind eye to this development. E.ON, for one, has invested around 10 billion euros ($12.47 billion) in renewable energies over the last eight years.
But the realization that no one is going to need huge energy companies at the end of this development, or that decentralized structures will be the future of power production, has been a long way off - until now.
Even though E.ON's competitor, RWE, was in a hurry to tell people that it wouldn't be splitting atoms anymore, one can assume that the alarm bells were ringing there as well. Vattenfall is on its way out of Germany already anyway and is looking to sue the government in Berlin for a few billion euros and sell its lignite mines in eastern Germany.
Decommissioning nuclear plants must remain task for the energy companies
E.ON's exit from fossil fuels is good news for Germany's energy revolution- That doesn't mean that the concern will become a role model for the production of clean energy - it's not idealistic enough.
Like I said, it was first and foremost a corporate policy decision. But the statement from the company's chief executive, Johannes Theyssen, that the current business model was no longer aligned with reality sure says a lot.
E.ON led the charge against Germany's energy revolution. Now it's shifting its nuclear business into a "bad bank" of sorts. One can only hope that the spin-off is equipped with enough money to bear the costs of dismantling all of those nuclear power plants. Otherwise, that cost could fall to the taxpayer.