Recently, I spoke at Acumen 2014, an event that gathers leaders from across the UK to discuss smart technologies, regulation and energy for the future. In its third year, the event attracted 120 people that included senior leaders of every UK and Irish electrical utility along with senior engineering and regulatory managers who have responsibilities for smart grid design, development and operation of encompassing engineering and business perspectives in distribution and transmission network companies.
This year’s event addressed the topic, ‘Leadership in a Contradictory World’, and discussed the overall issues leaders face with energy, transmissions and government regulation. The event generated thought-provoking and challenging discussions with several interesting thoughts and ideas coming out of sessions from speakers and attendees.
In the government sector, officials explained that energy has become a political agenda. Politicians have to get involved in this conversation because energy has large societal implications. The key issues with energy are affordability, security of supply and reducing carbon, and most importantly, they support energy technologies that help create jobs.
On the utilities side, speakers explained that uncertainty is causing problems for leaders in this sector. They know they have to change but don’t know when. Compliance, policy, standards, engineering and innovation all need to be considered in order for utilities to move forward with progress. They also find it difficult to change and innovate as they are constrained by the way they are regulated. In addition to this, utilities have not forgotten about carbon targets, which won’t go away. To meet the UK 2050 emission target, the utilities speakers made it clear that they wanted everyone to understand that typically, 80% of today assets will still be in place at 2050.
There were a variety of technologies discussed at Acumen, but I will focus on storage. A point was made that we have entered a circular argument with storage - companies believe market and regulatory changes are needed, and government believes companies need more storage innovation to inform market changes. In spite of this circular agreement, storage is commonly accepted and has been for some time- various storage technologies are proven and commercially available in volume right now. For example, the first requirements in California had 500 bids against a demand of 50MW. In Europe, storage activity is moving forward and currently there are over 256 projects in operation including the largest which is located in the UK. To date, there has been over £750m of EU funding for storage and more will be approved over the next few years.
It is clear that government and regulation do not form a smooth pathway for smart grid and other renewable technologies compared to established energy players. But they also face their own challenges (and have their own political agendas) to make changes and support the energy sector. It was refreshing to hear frank and candid conversation on these energy and regulation from key leaders in the sectors.
About Andrew Jones
As Managing Director of S&C Electric Europe, Andrew Jones is responsible for the strategy, direction and execution of activity in Europe. In 2008 he was integral in setting up the European business and has overall responsibility for building the business in these markets. Andrew Jones has exceptional technical knowledge in the energy sector, specializing in smart grid technology, and has published over 30 papers and he has been involved as a BEAMA, British Standard, CIGRE and IEC bodies.