Utility Week Live's keynote theatre hosted some of the industry's biggest discussions and debates around climate change, regulatory remits, electric vehicles and big data, as Utility Week director of content Jane Gray reports

Ofgem’s remit

It’s no surprise that in the wake of the Committee on Climate’s Change’s landmark Net Zero report, presentations and debate in Utility Week Live’s Keynote Theatre this year heavily referenced the urgent need for utilities to step up to the climate change threat and escalate efforts to create an optimised low-carbon energy system.

But matching the industry’s growing will to bring about a low carbon future is no straightforward task. Sessions in the theatre covered a number of challenges to progressing with decarbonisation. Among them, it was notable that several speakers identified Ofgem’s current mandate.

It was clearly felt by many of the industry experts on the Keynote agenda that Ofgem’s current focus on economic regulation is not aligned with the scale of industry change needed to meet the climate challenge. Several individuals called for Ofgem to be given an overt remit to advance energy system decarbonisation as part of its duty to protect the interests of future consumers.

Condition for open data

An animated panel discussion at the start of Utility Week Live day two grappled with the data architectures required to support smart energy ambitions and a fully decarbonised system.

Participants held differing views on the best approach to supporting visibility of key system data for multiple stakeholders, clashing, for instance, on support for a distributed blockchain based architecture.

But on one point they were all clear: we will not see the arrival of digitally enabled utilities without an industry shift away from proprietary attitudes towards data and towards open data.

Valuable system data, currently held in silos by disparate market players, must be made visible and accessible, both to incumbent actors and new entrants, speakers agreed. Some called on Ofgem to intervene to enforce enlightened data attitudes by mandating open data outputs from innovation “sandpit” schemes. Meanwhile, Stuart Lacey, chief executive of Electralink, suggested Ofgem should create a licence condition for market players to support data transparency.

Seamless EV experience

A celebrity kick-off to the Keynote agenda from actor and engineering personality Robert Llewellyn introduced a topic that recurred several times across both days of the event – the need for a seamless EV charging experience.

Llewellyn, a clean-tech evangelist, condemned the frequently dire charging experience he has endured when travelling in his own electric car or when test driving new EV models. Miserable mobile calls from motorway service station car parks, made in the pouring rain to charge-point operators after a range of apps and RFID tech failed to initiate charging, make for amusing anecdotes. But they do not support public confidence in EVs – mass uptake of which is critical if the UK is to live up to its increasingly ambitious decarbonisation and green growth goals.

Several Keynote participants suggested energy suppliers with ambitions to support EV charging as part of bundled green-living offers should take responsibility for creating interoperable charging solutions rather than closed, proprietary ones.

The debate on this was timely. The day after Utility Week Live 2019 closed its doors, Citizens Advice published a report urging EV market players to keep customer interests foremost as charging – especially smart charging – networks develop. It called for financial protection for consumers using smart charging infrastructure, as well as inclusive services for non-digital consumers, among a range of other recommendations.

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