Insights – Ready for Change

 

Prosumers, Big Data, Disaggregation, IoT and Block Chain to name but a few.  European Utility Week had a full serving of buzz words on display and no-one wanted to miss out on the buzzword bingo.  Few did.

 

But as I walked around the event I was struggling to find something truly new. Some incredible technologies and solutions were on show.  From the smart systems automatically restoring customers, to the enabling technologies enabling ever larger fleets of connected devices to be securely deployed and managed. The offerings from vendors are in many cases very impressive.  At the same time, the underlying products and platforms are often very familiar.  Indeed, while many of the booths are now proudly demonstrating working technology, I feel like I got some very similar pitches, albeit perhaps with more Power Points, 4 or 5 years ago.

Such is the historic pace of change in the electric utility industry.  What is the true cycle time for a new solution from inception to wide-scale deployment, or BAU? I can think of some examples of for example equipment, where new products have been created and then deployed by several utility companies at scale in the space of say a couple of years. I can also think of software solutions that took more like 10-15 years to become widely adopted.

 

The event coincided with a pivotal time for the UK Energy market. UK Distribution Network Operators are grappling with the concept of DSO.  First movers in the debate have been Scottish Power, followed by WPD and UKPN.  The consultation papers seemingly evolving, each building on the platform of what’s gone before. As of course they should, and the UK DNO perspective appears to be converging on some key concepts and an outline of future roles and responsibility as a DSO.

The DNO’s are convinced that they should become DSO’s.  All three that have published papers so far also agree that the DSO should be the hub for managing all distribution connected assets, even when they are providing services to the system operator. The timeline for a full DSO transition is unclear, but the world around us is changing faster than ever.  We live in exponential times as the famous “Shift Happens” video presentation reminds us.

 

At the same time, OFGEM is warning of big changes to come in RIIO-ED2.  Is innovation funding at risk?  Could shifting consumer behaviour change the status quo faster than anyone thinks?  Will the race for low carbon vehicles simultaneously fundamentally change the national demand curve and destroy the current market model?

But fundamentally, can the pace of change in the electric utility industry keep up?  The industry needs to shift innovation cycle time from decades to sub year. There are exciting times ahead, and I look forward to being part of this industry as innovators old and new enable our future.

 

Alan Dunn


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