RWE chief executive Rolf Martin Schmitz signalled he may leave his post next year amid the German utility's increasing focus on green energy, the Der Spiegel magazine reported.

Schmitz said he doesn’t know whether he is the right leader for RWE in the highly international renewables sector.

“I never worked abroad and will turn 64 next year. That could be a good time to pass the reins to younger hands,” he is quoted as saying in Der Spiegel.

RWE had no comment about the possible departure of its CEO when contacted by Recharge. His mandate ends in June 2021 unless extended, according to the company's corporate governance report.

Traditionally relying on coal and nuclear energy for its power plants, RWE had been a laggard in the build-up of renewables, but has been catching up very fast.

The company after incorporating the renewable energy generation assets of its rival E.ON, and the transfer back to RWE later this year of the renewable assets of its former subsidiary Innogy, will become one of Europe’s largest renewable energy producers and the world’s second largest operator of offshore wind.

Once it will also have received Innogy's renewables plants, only 20% of RWE's then about 9.5GW in renewable energy production capacity will come from Germany, a lower share than that of the company's green energy capacity in the US or the UK.

During a heated debate on Germany’s coal exit during the past two years, Schmitz had become a hate figure for climate activists due to his lobbying for an as-late-as-possible end date for coal and lignite, and his aggressive defence of the clearing of the Hambach Forest near Cologne that stands in the way of an expanding RWE lignite open pit mine.

In the end, Germany decided to exit coal only by 2038, a date that is far too late for an effective fight of the climate crisis, environmentalists criticise, although part of the Hambach Forest are allowed to keep standing. After lengthy negotiations with mining states and fossil companies, Berlin also decided to pay RWE €2.6bn ($2.86bn) in compensation for the shuttering of lignite plants that in great part have been amortised for years.

Schmitz insists the compensation isn’t high, as damages to the company from the coal and lignite exit would add up to €3.5bn because as well as the plant closures, RWE also has to bear massive costs for the re-cultivation of open pit mines and the reduction in staffing levels.

RWE chief financial officer Markus Krebber is seen as a likely successor of Schmitz at the helm of the company.