Focussing on the customer – how can we deliver the infrastructure that customers demand?
By Steve Mockford, Head of Multi Utility Design at GTC
The Open Networks Project is a major energy industry initiative to transform our energy networks and underpin the delivery of smart grids. It aims to remove barriers to smart technologies, enable smart homes and businesses, and ensure that the cost of the future energy system doesn’t affect customers energy bills.
The project brings together 10 of the UK and Ireland’s electricity network companies. Representing the industry, we are considering how best to meet these challenges. We are engaging with a wide range of stakeholders through workshops, conference calls and open forums to make sure that the new smart systems meet customers’ needs.
As an IDNO (Independent Distribution Network Operator), GTC brings a different perspective to the Open Networks Project. Serving new housing and commercial developments and not restricted by geographical regions, the transition from DNO (Distribution Network Operator) to DSO (Distribution System Operator) is something that we need to fully understand. Most importantly, how will it affect our customers? Recent developments in the sourcing of electricity offer the potential to provide more choices for customers – something we have always felt very passionate about.
The supply network is no longer just the straightforward ‘power station to home’ model. Low carbon technology mixed with traditional power stations, and a growing number of off-grid generation, form an increasingly complex matrix; for example, the success of Feed in Tariffs, has led to many homeowners already becoming involved in generating their own electricity. With the growing emphasis on low and zero-carbon developments, ‘self-generation’ is likely to become a growing trend, and network operators must adapt to this and seamlessly integrate it into the planning and delivery of services. Real-time data is just one new development that can be expected to be standardised going forward, as customers become more conscious of, and involved in, electricity generation, use and saving.
This complexity means that the industry must adopt a collaborative approach to ensure that for the end user, the system of managing the often-bewildering range of options is smart, reliable and transparent. Whatever the difficulties, as an industry we must put the needs of customers first.
Just one example of an area that we are currently working on, is electric-vehicle charging. The Government has announced its intention to potentially make electric car charging points compulsory for all new homes, and we are already working with a number of major developers to enable more homes to accommodate charging points. Customers need to have the choice of when, and where, to charge their vehicles. At the most basic practical level, if electric vehicles are to become mainstream then there must be enough charging points within range to make non-local journeys possible and to give drivers confidence in the availability of supply. Whilst our initiatives with housebuilders will contribute to achieving this, a nationwide network will only be possible through the combined efforts of many providers.
The challenge is similar to what we faced as a fibre broadband network operator. Our network is ultrafast, delivering network speeds of up to 1Gbps. More importantly, however, it is open access, not placing restrictions on the end user, but instead enabling them to choose their provider and the services and broadband speeds they want. We offer a range of ISPs (Internet Service Providers), with packages catering for telephone, broadband and TV and varied usage ranging from limited browsing and online shopping to multiple gaming sessions.
As an industry, we need to work together to make sure we deliver electricity to customers in a similar way that allows them the choice of how, when and where they want it and meeting ever-changing patterns of demand, and through the Open Networks Project, we hope to put smart systems in place to do just that.
If you would like to know more, please contact me on [email protected]