The future of energy is disruptive
By Adam Woodhall — The aim of the recent event ‘Energy Live Future’ was to highlight the cutting edge innovation that is surging through the energy industry. The organisers, Energy Live News, certainly fulfilled that promise.
The 300 attendees to this futuristic part conference, part expo and part laboratory event had an astronomical £2 billion of energy spend between. The day was held at the National Space Centre in Leicester, and amongst the rockets and space suits we got to find out about everything from data scientists, to smart monitoring, to future tools of procurement and electric vehicle storage solutions.
The day was opened with throbbing beats and inter-galactic graphics projected onto the huge dome of the main theatre, which gave the opening panel something to live up to, but they were more than up to the task, aided by the incisive questioning of Sumit Bose.
[Pictured above: Sumit Bose, Gab Barbaro, Robert Llewellyn]
First to scan the horizon was Managing Director at British Gas Business, Gab Barbaro, who made three provocative statements. The first was that energy is transforming businesses, and gave as an example Tesla, which sells 80,000 cars a year and has a market capitalisation great than Ford, which sells two million. Second was that the way energy is being bought and sold is fundamentally changing, with the illustration of net demand during the day being less than during the night. Finally, he recommended that large UK users, who spend £20bn of energy per year, could cut 10-15% of that cost by using technologies available today, many of which were highlighted in the exhibition outside.
Whilst the technology is clearly key, something the panel all agreed upon was the importance of the humans that mine the data. As Alex Montgomery, Internet of Things (IoT) & Advanced Analytics Commercial Lead at Microsoft said, good data scientists should be able to uncover revenue opportunities for businesses but they are a very scarce source. Barbaro of British Gas concurred, observing that “we’re investing a lot in people who can look at the data”.
The well-known actor and broadcaster, Robert Llewellyn (sci-fi fans will know him as Kryten in Red Dwarf) provided an engaging perspective. As well as putting solar panels on his own roof, he knows a lot about electric vehicles (EVs), due to his show on YouTube about them, which has more than 170,000 subscribers. He made the fascinating observation that the UK reached ‘peak horse’ in 1922, with a rapid descent in their use afterwards, and suggested we could see a similar shift to EVs. As one of the attendees, Jon Davies, commented; “Whilst the words had impact, the message was significantly more impactful: be wary, change happens slowly, then all at once.”
On the broader theme of fossil fuels, Stephen Church, Energy Market Leader at EY was optimistic that we are getting away from them through decentralisation and renewables, although he did counsel that fossil fuels will continue to be part of the energy mix for at least the next 20 years.
Church was stage again later as he and his EY colleagues discussed the disruptive opportunities of blockchain technology. He believes this trust mechanism will enable the energy market to become significantly more efficient and effective and suggested it has the potential to transform corporate reporting and finance systems. He emphasised that it could trigger a shift to a much simpler and cheaper energy market, with suppliers and buyers, who could be individuals or corporates, directly interacting, rather than through a centralised system.
Always keen to keep proceedings entertaining, the organisers also ran an ‘Energy Tinder’, where the attendees got to choose whether to swipe left or right on various technologies which lead to carbon reduction. As it happened, it was mostly swipe right, as there is some truly sexy ground-breaking tech out there being built by small enterprises.
Closing the day was a fascinating session on “Far out energy”, which was ably chaired by Dan Lewis, CEO at Future Energy Strategies. It looked into the future, but not as far ahead you’d think, at numerous questions. Appropriately for the venue, space-based solar power was one considered. This sci-fi technology is potentially going to be beamed down to earth by microwaves or lasers, and could happen within a decade or two.
Bringing us back down to earth was a great question about complexity posed from the stage by speaker Rick Greenough, Professor of Energy Systems at De Montfort University. Individuals want to know who they can trust to take away complexity and deliver future energy services to them. Will it be community energy, Big Six energy firms or even a car provider, such as Tesla? Greenough suggested people are more likely to trust their parish council to deliver on a community basis than the Big Six.