Tobias Schütt is the founder and managing director of DZ-4, a distributed utility company which sells solar PV energy to residential home owners in the first German “behind the meter” concept.
Janina Benz: How were you inspired to start DZ-4?
Tobias Schütt: When I lived in California, I saw similar business models [to DZ-4] being successfully implemented in the US (like Solarcity and Sunrun). Up to now, the German solar photovoltaic (PV) market, specifically in the residential segment, has worked very differently: people buy PV systems to get a financial return – the energy produced by the systems is not consumed in the household. This somehow felt wrong. With the cost of solar PV energy coming down and electricity prices from the grid rising, I saw an opportunity. That was the main driver to start DZ-4.
JB: In your opinion, what’s the main challenge startups face when entering the renewable energy sector?
TS: In the past, renewable energy was a market driven by policy and subsidies. In that context, it was not really a sustainable business because the economics were driven by laws and regulations. That meant that in some cases, a lot of flexibility was required in order to adapt business models to (still) fit with applicable legislation. Fortunately, with decreasing costs of basically all renewable technologies, this situation is about to change dramatically. However, there are new challenges. With DZ-4, for example, we need to comply with the regulations of the energy market if we want to be a distributed utility company. That is not easy when you consider that the energy regulatory framework was mainly written decades ago, when the idea of distributed generation (feeding energy into the grid) and self-consumption of energy or “prosumers” were unheard-of concepts.
JB: Do you feel that people have become more aware about the importance of renewable energy solutions?
TS: I am convinced that transferring the energy sector from fossil-based production to renewables is not a question of “if,” but a question of “when,” and that many people see it the same way. We see that change happening all over the world right now. Of course, some countries are quicker in implementing their renewable strategies than others, but that “the fourth revolution of mankind” cannot and will not be stopped.
JB: What is the most exciting thing about being an Ecopreneur?
TS: I really like the combination of working and thinking in economic dimensions – a business model needs to be profitable and still do something good and sustainable. And you don’t have to compromise on the well-being of stakeholders or the environment.
JB: If you could give one piece of advice to a startup entering the renewable energy section, what would it be?
TS: Try to make yourself independent from subsidies so that the business model is sustainable. And don’t fear the competition (from the conventional power world).
Note: Views and opinions expressed in this interview are the author’s do not necessarily represent those of GFT or CODE_n.