Exploring digitalisation, decarbonisation, and democratisation of energy


The Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) has partnered with Utility Week and sister title Network magazine to explore the driving forces – and challenges – behind the transformation of the UK energy system.

With key players across the energy space, including government, service providers, big business and innovators, the roundtable will encourage active debate around three key areas affecting the industry, and its journey to a decarbonised, decentralised and digitalised system:

  • The changing role of legislation and regulation in energy system governance
  • The challenges of achieving the promise of digitalisation in the energy system
  • Responding to the changing relationship between the customer and energy system

The focus for the utilities industry since privatisation has largely been driving cost out of individual silos. Enormous progress has been made within these silos, but the quadruple challenge of digitalisation, decarbonisation, decentralisation and democratisation requires major systemic change by actors across the system. The value chain needs to be more integrated; from consumer service models and consumer products at one end of the chain all the way through to energy supply at the other end. The energy vectors also need to be more integrated; electricity, heat, hydrogen, natural gas, liquid fuels and so on.

As an entity with no vested interests but significant expertise in this space, ESC is working with industry, on behalf of government, to unleash the opportunity afforded by decarbonisation and digitalisation. The mission is to help industry establish the architecture and platforms to enable all the different actors to interact profitably across all the silos.

Projects being driven forward by the Catapult (such as the Future Power Systems Architecture (FPSA) programme), can be the catalyst for breaking down the barriers to change and transforming the way new thinking is implemented across Britain’s power sector. This looks at the opportunity for radical reform of the way changes are managed across the whole system, including beyond the meter. Innovation will only flourish when the sector’s change processes are modernised to create an agile and open environment for all parties.

At this roundtable, ESC will be driving debate into what the UK’s future power system could and should look like.

A brief look at the key topics

The privatisation of electricity and gas supply at the end of the 1980s has left behind an entrenched network of legal and regulatory frameworks that are rooted in centralised models of the post-war decades, locking licensed and regulated industries into behaviours that are incentivised to be both backward looking and slow to change.

Neither of the frameworks allows for the decentralisation of production, self or community provision, or peer-to-peer trading. Conversely, ‘heat’ is in a different position, with almost no legal and regulatory framework in place. The first session, – led by ESC’s Director of Innovation, Eric Brown – looks at the role legislation could play in shifting the paradigm from a slow, reactive model to an innovative, decentralised one, discussing what legislative changes are needed, key objectives when facing reform, and issues that need to be taken account of.

The second topic addresses the significant value of data in a digital world. Although the energy sector has recognised this – in the public sector through the rollout of smart meters (with stringent controls on data access) and in the private sector through smart home devices – we are still lacking a high-profile disruptor in the sector. With ongoing projects in this space, including ESC’s Energy Data Capability study, this session – led by Linda Chandler, global smart cities advisor and founder of Hyperlocal Cities – asks if the data opportunity should be left to market forces, what data should be made available and how do we place a value on it? And how does the sector embrace new opportunity and business models involving data assets while needing to maintain security of supply? amongst others.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we look at the role of the consumer in today’s energy system. More than just a passive end-user, digital disruption in all markets – travel, mobile, leisure – means that energy must now be seen more as a service than just a commodity. As we have already seen with the likes of Tesla and Amazon, those that focus on exploiting digital technology to understand, shape and deliver on customer expectations win.

Utilities have traditionally focused on the system and security rather than customer choice, but it won’t be long before innovators side-step this hurdle and find a way of delivering services, creating issues for traditionally operating industries. In fact, renewable-generation and domestic storage such as solar, electric vehicles, and smart home technology is already enabling consumers to control their own futures in this space.  Led by ESC’s head of architecture and transformation, John Batterbee, we’ll discuss how new entrants change the retail paradigm for energy, for example by bundling energy as a service contract like home entertainment and broadband; how the electricity industry might work with the automotive sector to enable growth of the Electric Vehicle market; and explore what the implications might be for the whole energy system and its supporting infrastructure, such as large generators, transmission operators and networks.

Want to find out more?

Look out for the write-up on the event in Utility Week and Network Magazine. If you want to get involved in the conversation, look out for our upcoming events and breakfast briefings here.