This week Europe’s energy industry gathered in Amsterdam for the European Utility Week Conference 2014.
The customer was very much at the centre of the event, with a focus on how new technologies will fundamentally transform the relationship between utilities and consumers across Europe. Much attention was on how the smart energy future will lead to a much more transparent market and a more engaged customer, with implications for the way energy is produced, sold and distributed.
Tony Fadell, founder and CEO of Nest, set the tone in his opening key note session. As an outsider to the energy industry who has designed technology which is already changing the way people heat their homes, Fadell had a clear message for the utility companies at the conference; either you embrace technology and innovation, or customers will leave you behind. You only have to look at the way new players have come in and transformed the the entertainment and telecoms industries to see the truth in that message.
From the fringe events and conversations taking place on the exhibition floor, it is clear that there is no lack of enthusiasm for the energy revolution, or evolution depending on your perspective. One highlight was a dragons den style competition, where start-up companies from across Europe competed to win a $100,000 grant for their utility innovation. There were some fascinating pitches from companies looking at energy efficiency in the home, infra-red heating, the use of data in the management of distribution networks and metal theft detection systems. The award went to German company Venios GmbH for their cloud software for big data analytics, monitoring and control of distributed power systems.
ENA Director of Operations Paul Fidler spoke on a panel session on market design and cost effective sustainability. Networks will be a facilitator of an affordable, low carbon future and innovation will clearly play a vital role. One of the questions raised in Amsterdam was how to deliver that innovation when networks across Europe operate in tightly regulated markets where funding for innovation is not as simple as it is in other sectors. As we saw at the recent LCNI Conference in Aberdeen the UK is leading the way in that area since regulatory changes introduced by Ofgem in 2010.
As you would expect from a conference with over 8,000 delegates from around the World, there were fascinating ideas and products on display at European Utility Week. The challenge will be ensuring that when the conference meets again next year in Vienna, progress has been made in translating some of these concepts into real services which are delivering for customer in Europe.