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Meet the Innovators: Somayeh Taheri, CEO, Urbanchain

After celebrating energy tech firm Urbanchain’s fifth anniversary and signing off an AI and blockchain-driven energy exchange partnership with Rebel Energy, Dr.Somayeh Taheri discusses the ability of new energy technology to drive ‘seismic’ sector change.

What was your first job in the utilities sector?

Prior to founding Urbanchain in 2017 I was a research scientist at the University of Manchester working with data and models on climate change and fuel poverty.

What is the most significant way that today’s utilities sector differs from the one you first joined?

Different forms and sizes of renewable energy are very much coming to the fore now – from large off-shore wind to micro EVs and battery storages. While there’s still a long way to go, a lot of positive movement towards true decarbonisation is happening. The further movement towards local grid, local supplier and local pricing will have significant impact on the industry.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced during your time in utilities?

Despite a significant amount of innovation happening around the industry, there is a need to renew our mindset, approach, risk management and practice in the retail energy market.

What do you think is the key to creating the conditions for innovation within the utilities sector?

Collaboration and knowledge sharing – and the enabling of them. We have been sharing our business model with Ofgem Innovation Link since 2016 and with Elexon since 2020. We have spoken to hundreds of stakeholders in the market since 2019. All of these knowledge sharing activities have made us stronger, and we have contributed to the growth of other stakeholders.

Which other industry do you feel that utilities can learn most from when creating the conditions for innovation?

This might be a bit of a surprise, but team sports like football. I always wanted to create a company that works like a football academy – getting future stars and training them to be number one in what they do.

Creating a hub of experts is what Urbanchain is and can become better at during our journey and there’s no reason why this ‘football academy’ approach can’t be utilised in utilities. When the best talent comes together and their ability is supported a lot can be achieved when it comes to overcoming challenges that will always exist.

  • Supporting customers through this winter and identifying emerging vulnerabilities are among the key themes at the Utility Week Forum, which will take place in London on 8-9 November. Find out more here.

Is there a standout innovation or collaboration project that you’ve worked on during your time in utilities – what made it special?

The ambitious work that we do with West Suffolk Council and Together Housing Association are two standout collaboration projects.

West Suffolk Council is developing a peer-to-peer local energy market between their local generators and local commercial consumers. With our peer-to-peer PPA model, the green electricity prices for commercial consumers are 50% less than the market price, while generators receive premium prices for their generation volume.

Together Housing Association is creating a private peer-to-peer market between tenants and various micro-scale generation assets. We have a plan to onboard 36,000 domestic properties.

To name another project, our recent partnership and collaboration with Rebel Energy. That really is that these projects are significant moments, not just for our clients and us, but for the wider energy transition in the UK as it demonstrates what is possible and how we can make changes for the good of all at a time when people and businesses have for too long been hit with unprecedented energy bills.

What do you think will be the defining factor in the UK hitting its net zero targets?

Many commercial, regulatory and social factors are required for the UK to hit its net zero targets. Above all of those factors is our mindset to change from traditional to innovative and agile business models to make net zero available for all with promising outcomes.

What is the change you’d most like to see within the utilities industry?

The upcoming changes are promising. I think for the government to make some ground-breaking decisions based on what we have seen after the pandemic. As for stakeholders, bringing innovation to be part of business as usual activities is very important.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the utilities sector at present?

Ensuring bills for people, families, individuals and businesses become cheaper and more fairly priced. Energy should not be a luxury, it must not be and that is what it has become particularly over the past couple of years.

Urbanchain is working with social housing companies, hotels, industrial estates, corporates, energy suppliers, renewable energy generators and residences successfully. And we are creating local energy markets in the process where end-users receive more affordable energy bills.

Which issues or opportunities within the industry don’t you feel get enough airtime?

Fuel poverty. Alleviating fuel poverty is a fundamental part of our mission statement and it is ignored too often by the powers that be.

What is the most significant way you think the utilities sector of ten years’ time will differ from the one we see today?

Technologies will continue to be introduced and drive seismic change, as well as new business models. What has to be done in parallel is the carrying out of strong and decisive decisions from governments throughout the world.

Utility Week Innovate, in collaboration with Utility Week Live aims to discover and promote innovative approaches to tackle front line business challenges through case studies, technical/project studies, networking, and live content. Be recognised as a key solution provider and meet your target audience face-to-face at UWL23. Find out more about exhibiting