Simon Harrison, group strategic development director, Mott MacDonald and chairman, IET/Engineering Systems Catapult Future Power Systems Architecture Programme Electricity transmission/distribution, Energy networks, Energy storage, Opinion, Simon Harrison, electric vehicles, Energy Efficiency, EVs, Flexibility

Simon Harrison talks about what the future holds for the power networks, via fictional company PowerZ.


Hi, I’m Simon, and I work for PowerZ a new and dramatically well-funded tech start-up that has been launched by A-long Tusk. My mission is to disrupt the power industry in the same way Tesla has for cars and SpaceX has for cargo missions in space. I looked at the US first, but regulation looked too complex and too fragmented state by state. I’m super-excited to announce our plans to start in Blighty, as I’ve heard you call this charming but rather wet country of yours.

First, our technology. I can’t say too much, but we have several hundred people on the case, the very best from Harvard and MIT. You’ll have heard of home batteries already, very soon they will be much cheaper and have much larger capacity. We’re doing some really interesting things with connected living, enabling the life you want to live without you having to think about it, and saving loads of energy and carbon along the way. By 2025 car charging means you’ll be driving a mobile energy store, capable of powering your home and providing services that will be paid for by the grid.

Our new home comfort units will take energy coming into the home in whatever form, store it efficiently, and, with our advanced algorithms and AI, provide precise room by room comfort all year round, all with minimal space take. And you won’t need to lift a finger – by handing over your home and lifestyle energy requirements to the popular digital assistant, ‘Electra’, she’ll be brokering the energy markets on your behalf. All for less than you pay today. For communities we have a wide area version, allowing everyone to share their surplus energy with friends and neighbours, so all benefit. It works just as well across a town or city as at a hospital, university or industrial campus. Exciting stuff.

What do I see on arrival in Britain, other than all that rain? In many ways you guys in the power and infrastructure industry are pretty forward thinking. You’ve done stacks of innovation on smart networks, some of your smart city thinking is right up there, outfits like Transport for London are doing amazing things with open data. You’re busy separating system operation from networks, and having some of the right debates about integration.

Your regulator, Ofgem, sees the profundity of the change as it formulates the upcoming price control framework – that’s a tough one. Your government is doing some great work. I really liked the smart systems and flexibility plan. On another track, your National Infrastructure Commission and others are saying some leading things about digital and the transformation of construction. It all seems pretty good, everything set fair for the future?

But wait a minute, let me show you what’s happening elsewhere. Food retail – the force of competition has transformed how the big box retailers know their customers. The power of data capture and data science allows them to use 25,000 consumer archetypes to target a better experience and more loyalty from their customers. I hear your energy suppliers use but a dozen or so. Someone showed me a really interesting report from Laura Sandys that suggested we treated energy like food. I kind of liked that idea. And all with minimal regulation, food just has to be safe and priced fairly.

Coming back though to PowerZ’s little European adventure, the main thing we’ve learned is who not to talk to. Not government, not regulators, not network companies. We don’t have time to deal with all those and the slow change processes they insist on operating. We’re talking to consumers, we’re talking to businesses and we’re talking to channels to market. My adventure and my career will come to a premature end if I don’t show exponential sales growth in three years. I want my technology out there with millions of customers, the networks will have to just deal with that. Have a great 2018.

NB: PowerZ is a fictional company. Simon Harrison’s story-style piece is intended to give a realistic but different perspective from those generally seen in the utility industry.

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