The European Utility Week conference, convened in Vienna, between 6 - 8 November, was all about the power of data and opportunities through flexibility and asset-light growth. The event provided rich inspiration for the Utilities industry, stressing the importance of securing a role in the new digital and distributed energy system, while fortifying the existing business.
At the conference, data was clearly king, as IoT, digital sensors and infrastructure virtualization including “digital twins” hold the promise of critical transformation enablers such as for core infrastructure, workforce productivity and cost optimization. Also, managed services for utilities suggested asset-light scaling of data-driven benefits through managed security and machine learning-enabled cloud services.
Multiple conference sessions emphasized the need for close transmission system operator (TSO)-distribution system operator (DSO) synergy for optimal data, cybersecurity, tariff design and system flexibility. Many practitioners endorsed convergences between gas and electricity grids through power-to-gas solutions and renewable gas, while some advocated managing both gas and electricity smart grids through a single system.
Another key topic of the year was “flexibility of the energy system,” which flagged the need for stable transition in times of growing peak demand and increasing supply volatility. Promising first experiences in virtual power plants, EV smart charging, local flexibility and commercially viable storage have provided multiple alternatives for both optimizing the infrastructure as well as enabling new growth. Other additional opportunities that were addressed included managing the increasing self-consumption of distributed rooftop solar while monetizing flexibility for residential heating as well as for commercial and industrial users.
In general, asset-light growth has been at the top of the agenda for both energy retailers and DSOs. There was an emphasis on the IT/OT infrastructure access managed by the DSOs which are available for emerging customer applications independently from the retailer. A more radical comparison suggested DSOs morphing into a “smartphone,” transforming from being a core hardware operator into a platform of third-party digital services, or into a “decentralized iOS.” Utilities have been keen to utilize platforms effectively for peer-to-peer energy exchanges, while ensuring adherence to the new GDPR data protection implications for decentralized applications.
Electric mobility, including multiple asset-light business model options, were also perceived as some of the key growth drivers this year.
Last but not the least, passionate and talented new generation of workforce as well as capable startup partners were professed as a prerequisite for success for the European utilities sector, with the sector attractiveness for young employees being fueled by emerging “cool” topics including e-mobility.
The medium vs long-term value potential through infrastructure optimization and asset-light growth opportunities for distribution grid operators were also a key question in the latest edition of Accenture’s Digitally Enabled Grid research. The study explores how the distribution utilities can transform their core operations and grow the core business while pivoting to the New.
To sum it up, we can say that EUW 2018 witnessed a rich exchange of industry knowledge between top-level European energy professionals. The conference provided a platform to encourage business, form new relationships and drive new projects, focusing on topics including security, equity and sustainability, providing an end-to-end European energy experience.