As industry gathered for Utility Week Live 2019, the winds of change were in the air, as Suzanne Heneghan reports

The theme was transition… and it was everywhere.
Utility Week Live 2019 was active confirmation of an industry on the move. Scores of speakers and panellists shared the fast-changing picture happening out there for utilities – the new business models and working, the critical need to better engage with customers and communities, and how technology and data have become the ultimate solutions providers.

A year on from our 2018 event focusing on disruption, this show, at Birmingham’s NEC, was about the game-changers.

From decarbonisation, renewables and the UK’s now unstoppable progress towards electric vehicles and the smart grid, to the emergence of new thinking and potential major players – not least hydrogen – every corner of the industry is transitioning.

Opportune ideas, concepts and predictions about the future shape of markets, infrastructure and policy jockeyed for airtime throughout each of the show’s breakout sessions at the Customer Solutions, Network, Water Wholesale and (new this year) Innovation and Streetworks theatres, as well as the show’s flagship Keynote, which hosted industry-leading debate.

New faces and players were a key feature of the show’s packed programme, revealing how the profile and breadth of delegates entering the water and energy space is now indisputably mobile.

The show also coincided with leaked details of Labour’s plans to nationalise energy networks, just one week on from reports that it intended to push ahead with plans to take water companies back into public ownership if it were to gain power. Against this backdrop of unprecedented industry change and volatile national and international uncertainty came strong calls for more expedient regulation.

And a host of pan-utility voices demanded a more joined-up approach and ambitious vision from all policymakers in recognition of the challenge for utilities to secure investment and ensure swift access to future-proof national infrastructure, including telecoms.

The sense of urgency and excitement was palpable, making it the perfect moment to launch our Utility of the Future campaign

The coming year will be a defining one. As the transition continues and industry begins to move towards new targets, we will start to see the new reality and what a utility of the next decade could look like.

Utility of the Future

Utility Week Live 2019 also saw the launch of our headline campaign for 2020, a year-long exploration of what the “Utility of the Future” will look like.

The show, with its “transition” theme, was the perfect place to announce the campaign, because it will be going on to explore the potential destination for utilities and the end-game for the changing industry landscape.

What the campaign will involve

Throughout the year we will be producing high-impact content, including articles, interviews and research, to examine the key issues. And there will be live and online events.

We’ll ask difficult questions about how the industry might change – perhaps radically.

This will also be a chance to think about how technologies or innovations in operations might alter our understanding of what a utility really is.

How are we defining the campaign content?

An expert independent advisory board will guide us throughout, and we have selected five key pillars of content to investigate – climate change, customers, regulation, technology, and workforce and skills – each of which will run for eight-week periods over the next 12 months.

An exciting year ahead

We are now shaping plans for the first topic pillar – it’s a great moment to look at how climate change could and should reshape business models, operations and strategy. We are looking for contributions, forthright opinions and examples of innovation, and would welcome industry involvement and engagement.

And we will also be collating the very best insights from UK and international research.

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