Contributor: Lasse Kari
Conversations at large industry events have been changing in recent years, and never have I noticed it more than at the recent European Utility Week (EUW) conference. While we are still having important discussions around energy trends and technologies, this was the first time the green citizen movement in Europe has left a visible footprint across the sector – encouraging utilities to find purpose for customers, communities and future talent during the ongoing energy transition.
At the Intersection of Utilities and Tech
A fascinating duality is emerging in the relationship between the utility and technology sectors.
On one hand, exploding volumes of high-frequency, high-value utility data has boosted cooperation between utilities and tech players, including Amazon and Microsoft. The opportunity: to jointly manage, interpret and monetize the data. Indeed, digitally enabled consumers are generating massive amounts of granular data through smart meters, connected home products and building management devices. That information surge comes with customer expectations to view consumption data in mere hours and then “earn” credits through flexible tariffs. In parallel, commercial and industrial customers are continually demanding innovative business models to manage their emissions footprint and reduce energy bills – all enabled by new market options, such as AI-powered consumption analytics, energy storage and power purchase agreements (PPAs).
At the same time, increasingly hyperconnected grid and generation infrastructure assets are delivering gigabytes of data in real time, pushed by the increasingly mature and interconnected wholesale and balancing markets. As utility representatives shared during EUW, Fortum is reinvigorating its 70-year-old hydro assets with digital solutions to participate in real-time markets. Fingrid is using digital twins to reduce capex and support data management. And GrDF is using electricity decoupling with renewable gas to balance the grid edge. All in all, the ability to create data lakes in days – not years – is opening new dimensions to make the data-driven energy system more flexible, more secure and more resilient to sudden events.
On the other hand, there are rapidly growing concerns about the battle for digital talent between utilities and tech companies. Large companies like Google and Uber as well as a growing number of digital startups have become a magnet for technology/IT talent. That, in turn, is making it increasingly difficult for an average utility to find and keep the talent it needs.
All in all, the ability to create data lakes in days – not years – is opening new dimensions to make the data-driven energy system more flexible, more secure and more resilient to sudden events.
While at EUW, I was honored to moderate a panel session with executives from Enedis, EDP Distribución, Enel Infrastructure & Networks and DTEK. These leaders were unanimous in their view that attracting and retaining smart people is a prerequisite for grid operators to successfully lead the energy transition. They also pointed to smart (think: stable and fast) regulation and smart consumers as keys to success.
The panel also discussed how employees want responsibility in innovation to drive the energy transition and why cooperation with academia is critical. Other success factors include access to mentoring and initiatives designed simply to make employees happy. All this requires a brand purpose attractive not only to the workforce but also to clients and the wider society.
It’s also time to push the envelope for diversity. While at EUW, I had an opportunity to participate in a discussion called Initiate!, which focused on young women in Energy. It was a great avenue for engaging the next-generation of talent and sharing advice on growth opportunities for new leaders. There is no question that Getting to Equal will ignite innovation and growth. It’s something we believe at Accenture – not only for our clients, but also for our own business.
In an upcoming post, I will share more about the next-generation workforce that will shape the future of the utilities industry. Until then, please join our ongoing conversation via Twitter and LinkedIn.