We talk a lot about how UK utilities markets are being disrupted – and last week we saw it in action. The change in the air was palpable at Utility Week Live, the exhibition and conference that welcomes thousands of visitors from the electricity, gas and water markets to Birmingham’s NEC each May.

On the seminar and keynote stages, there was a new breed of speakers. They talked differently to traditional utilities, thought differently, and even looked different. These were the new energy companies, and the edge-of-grid companies growing up around them that have based their business models on technology and data, and the opportunities they will afford as we progress through the energy transition.

There was Electron, the company leading the charge on blockchain – now led by former Npower chief Paul Massara. There was Verv – the new company using artificial intelligence to manage home services, led by former SSE director of connected homes Michael Jary. And there was Limejump, led by Erik Nygard, a new type of generator that uses cloud-based technology to operate a “virtual” power plant aggregating distributed generation.

And this is to name but a few. For years, critics have warned traditional utilities that new entrants are coming to eat their lunch. It looks like those warnings are coming true. These companies were proud to call themselves disruptors, and to explain how they are combining their deep knowledge of utilities with their technological know-how and the agility that comes with freedom from legacy.

That’s not to say traditional utilities aren’t rising to the challenge of disruption. But the difference between traditional businesses getting to grips with technology, and new businesses built on it, means established players will always be playing catch-up in new markets.

And that may be no bad thing. The influx of new energy, new perspectives and new ideas can turn traditional thinking on its head in a way that ultimately benefits customers. We invited 20 hackers, creatives and technical designers to work live on the show floor, through the night, to tackle the challenges of how utilities can identify and engage with vulnerable customers. The ideas they came up with would never have come out of a boardroom. You can read all about them here, and we’ll be following them up with our partners over the coming months.

Bringing together energy, vigour and new perspectives with experience and expertise is a powerful combination. As utilities prepare for a very different future, it’s one we can expect to see more of.

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