• Powerpeers website connects solar energy sellers with buyers
  • Platform could be ‘more profitable’ than old business model

The biggest utility in the Nordic region is trying to give its flagging business a boost with an online platform encouraging people to trade solar energy generated at the fringes of the grid.

Vattenfall AB and other utilities have been trying to figure out how to safeguard profit amid a global shift to renewable power that’s helping to keep wholesale electricity prices near 14-years lows. The Swedish company on Tuesday unveiled its Powerpeers.nl trading platform in a bid to tap into the success of social media and sharing economy pioneers like Facebook Inc. and Airbnb Inc., said creator Lars Falch.

“Powerpeers will cannibalize our old business model, which is totally okay,” said Martijn Hagens, senior vice president at Vattenfall. “No business model will live forever so it is more about killing your own darling, so to speak. We believe this is a transition.”

Vattenfall’s trading platform is the latest sign showing how the transition to renewable energy is upending the century-old way that utilities have done business. As nations strive to lower carbon emissions in a bid to curtail global warming, power generation has moved to the edges of electrical grids and forced utilities to change their centralized approach. Rooftop solar panels have become the most popular form of generating localized renewable electricity in both industrialized and emerging countries.

Companies from Italy’s Enel SpA to Austria’s Verbund AG are investing in research and startups that are disrupting business as usual. Vattenfall’s revenue fell a second consecutive year in 2015 to 165 billion krona ($19.5 billion). Its after-tax loss widened to 19.8 billion, according to the annual report.

Vattenfall has identified several revenue streams from the trading platform. It will charge a subscription fee starting at 6.99 euros and allow other companies such as panel installers and banks to peddle their services on the platform for a fee. The utility is also seeking to franchise its platform in other countries.

“Users make a profile and communicate with others to sell extra energy generated from solar panels on their roof or buy from a neighbor,” Powerpeers creator Falch said in a phone interview. “They can also make groups for messaging like on WhatsApp.”

“If you were to limit it is just a platform to share energy, it is probably difficult to be as profitable as the old business model but if you offer other services -- that could make it more profitable,” Hagens said. “One thing we do know is that if you do nothing, your current business model will become less profitable.”

Powerpeers is available in the Netherlands and may next expand to Germany, Sweden, Finland and France. Vattenfall declined to disclose how much it has invested in the project.

“Nobody knows what the energy market will look like in 20 years,” said Elchin Mammadov, analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “Utilities are investing in all sorts of ideas -- If they don’t, someone else will.”

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