In December, 20 months into the top job at Germany’s Innogy AG, Peter Terium unveiled a 3 billion-euro plan to transform the utility into a provider of electric car technology, digital networks, and offshore wind farms. His goal, he said, was to become “a trailblazer of change. We do not wait to see what happens. We set trends.” Terium didn’t need to wait long to see what happened. A week later, he was out of a job. 

Terium’s fate highlights the dilemma faced by European utilities. The likes of the U.K.’s Centrica Plc, Eon SE of Germany, and Italy’s Enel SpA are shifting away from their traditional business of simply selling electricity and starting to offer higher-tech—and potentially more profitable, but also

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