Despite the all-consuming challenges of the Covid-19 crisis, utilities cannot afford to lose sight of their future goals, says Utility Week magazine editor, Suzanne Heneghan

It is the ultimate disruptor, and the ultimate leveller too. In less than a month anything now seems possible under Covid-19 with nothing above or beyond its impact.

Headlines on what at the turn of the decade was the undisputed emergency of our generation, net zero, have rightly made way for those reflecting the life and death battles being waged to protect our nation. Likewise, the government game-changer that was regional growth has now been relegated to the policy backseat.

But what could a new world order look like once we eventually emerge from the dark tunnel of coronavirus? It’s a brave person who predicts what the future might hold, not least for the decarbonisation agenda, or the levelling-up narrative – both so all-consuming only a few weeks ago.

As always, Utility Week has been tracking the latest industry thinking swirling around an increasingly uncertain sector. This week, in our Voices column, one seasoned energy commentator outlines precisely why, despite the indisputable challenges of the current crisis, we simply cannot afford to lose sight of our future goals.

Utilities, he says, will need to be in the best shape they can be to help drive forward our economy and attract vital investment when the time for progress finally arrives. Furthermore, when we all surface after the storm we will have, as he puts it, an “opportunity to reset society’s relationship with the built environment and pull the country together”.

Those who may believe that as the economy and carbon emissions slow, so too will the decarbonisation debate would be wise to think again, suggests another chief executive writing in the magazine this week.

On the contrary, he points to how the pandemic has shown the country’s absolute inter-dependency on the actions of the rest of the world, and that a smart climate change policy has never been more crucial. In a message to the regulator, he urges that the GD2 RIIO price controls must not underestimate the role of robust public infrastructure, and those that run it, in Britain’s recovery.

A fundamental change in mindset is already happening as we move through the maelstrom, reflects another industry voice, and champion for sustainability. In fact, she predicts the “massive” social shift we are seeing and historic redefining of the public’s relationship with the state implies a radical remodelling of essential utility services could soon be under way.

Whoever eventually comes closest to the mark, what feels absolutely certain is that nothing will ever be the same again.

Suzanne Heneghan, editor, Utility Week magazine