[ETS16 Primer] Emergence: New Players and Technologies Bring Utilities to the Innovation Game

[ETS16 Primer] Emergence: New Players and Technologies Bring Utilities to the Innovation Game

by Jon Arnold, ETS16 Community Advocate and Zpryme Advisor

ETS16 is a mere six weeks away, and we’re on to the second in our series of four Transforming the Chaos articles around the pillars of this year’s conference: Transformation, Emergence, Convergence, and Humans. First we addressed Transformation, and my focus now is on the Emergence of technologies and people with new ways of thinking about how utilities can truly become 21st century businesses.

New ideas need friends. And a lot of change is needed. When utilities are ready for change, new leaders emerge with visions of a new culture and ways of embracing emerging technologies to serve today’s customers. The focus of our Emergence article is on EDF Energy Services, and its President, Mary Anne Brelinsky, whom will be sharing her vision with us at ETS16.

I have distilled three key types of emergence from my conversation with Mary Anne. I don’t see these themes as being unique to EDF Energy Services, and instead hold them out as a model for all ETS16 attendees to follow as they emerge from today’s industry chaos as tomorrow’s market leaders.

Emergence Theme #1 – Value Chains

Are you going to innovate, or adapt, or both? That’s a big question everyone is grappling with. In the world of legacy technology, the energy sector has operated largely as a group of silos with discrete elements of the overall value chain. Generation, transmission, distribution, and so forth operate efficiently on their own, protected in large part by regulation. While each link in the chain may be strong, there is little native capability to connect them together for a holistic view that defines end-to-end value for energy users.

With today’s smart grid technology, energy users have a two-way relationship with utilities, and that has transformed expectations for meeting customer needs. Each link in the value chain now generates data in real time that can impact the customer relationship, but most utilities lack the ability to integrate this across the full value chain. To truly meet and anticipate customer needs, it’s essential to have access to all this data with a focus on the customer rather than what’s best for each link in the chain.

This is exactly what EDF Energy Services provides, and is a great example of an emerging solution that leverages today’s technologies to redefine the energy value chain in 2016. Mary Anne explains further:

“At EDF Energy Services we aren’t reinventing the wheel, but we are reengineering how the wheel rolls. I believe the new energy value chain and answer to true innovative change exists in how we put the pieces of the energy puzzle back together. We have been experimenting with putting the energy value chain pieces back together using technology and the smart grid. We are taking proverbial ‘big data’ and turning it into information that our customers can use to make energy consumption decisions in real time. We are knocking down the walls between our retail business teams and the wholesale markets that support them.”

Emergence Theme #2 – Technologies

Advancing technology is a fact of life, and solutions will keep evolving, and offer exciting potential both for making utilities more efficient as well as finding new opportunities to serve customers. We are on the road to being able to govern and account for every electron.

Big data is certainly an emerging trend that will enable utilities to aggregate real-time information from across the grid to better manage the overall value chain. We’ll be hearing a lot about this at ETS16, and here’s a new way that EDF Energy Services identified as a means to offer more customer control, and distributed logic into a new application to help customers better manage their energy.

“We have developed an iPhone app which allows customers to monitor their power stations from their phone; it displays current wind speeds and weather near their facilities and allows retail customers to see their power and gas consumption alongside the appropriate real-time energy prices. If you can provide integrated solutions that are meaningful to your clients, you have harnessed the power of your platform.”

Equally important is to look for emerging energy opportunities within vertical sectors. As our domestic economy shifts from manufacturing to services, so does the demand for energy. Companies like Google and Facebook use energy in different ways than traditional manufacturers, so aside from using their technology to derive business value from smart grid investments, they are an important customer group for utilities to serve. Consider how EDF Energy Services views these companies, and it should be clear how this is another way to define emergence as a core theme that we’ll be addressing at ETS16.

“The energy used by a single Google search is equivalent to turning on a 60W light bulb for 17 seconds. Billions of Google searches are happening around the world every day. You do the math, that’s a lot of power. At EDF we are working with several of the large tech companies to optimize the renewable generation they procure and optimize the physical supply for their data centers and campuses.”

Emergence Theme #3 – Culture and Leadership

For emergence to happen, the right culture must be in place to embrace it. We all know how conventional the utility sector is, and while cultures are changing, it’s not happening fast enough to address today’s customer demands and expectations. As Mary Anne sees it,

“…if the energy industry is going to keep pace with the advances being made around the world we need new blood, new ideas, and to shift our thinking away from the way we have always done it.”

Regardless of age or gender, utilities need to find ways to emerge from a culture nurtured by market-insulating regulation. The technology examples cited above are creating a new world that is more customer-centric and driven by innovation. Utilities need to follow suit or risk losing ground to emerging market forces such as renewables, and it all starts from within. At ETS16, Mary Anne will speak to what leadership and culture needs to look like for this sector, and we hope attendees will have a stronger awareness of the emergences around them in the year to come, and why this emergence theme is so important.

We’d love to have you participate in the discussions taking place at ETS16, March 29-31 in Austin, Texas. Learn more about the event here.

We’d also love your participation in the first Chaos Index survey. We want to hear from you about how all this industry change looks from your perspective. Take the survey here.

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