On 19 March 2019, I attended the Aurora Spring Forum in Oxford. With over 350 attendees and influential keynote speakers, it made for a highly desirable gathering for the Energy sector. There were too many thought-provoking discussions to mention. However, I would like to share the highlights for me from the day.
The keynote speakers highlighted the future trends of industry. Electric vehicles (EVs), climate change, energy supply security and climate change being the notable topics of interest for the years to come.
There was an interesting framework splitting the industry challenges into Known Knowns and Unknown Unknowns and everything in between. The longer-term planning aims are Unknown Unknowns, due to uncertainties and risks posed by the developments in the energy landscape. However, the sessions were quite revealing in that the Known Knowns (climate change, disrupting technologies) are still quite challenging to deal with. Dermot Nolan from Ofgem highlighted this by saying:
“We focus on problems two decades out into the future rather than focusing on challenges of the next decade.”
On the topic of Future Energy Policy, Dermot also highlighted the need to engage in discussions with customers. He saw this as the biggest challenge and opportunity that needs to be tackled in the today’s energy market.
Irene Rummelhoff from Equinor highlighted three things that need to happen. Namely, the switch from coal to gas; growth in renewables; and the advancement of hydrogen technologies to keep the market moving.
Johannes Teyssen from E.ON highlighted that the main challenge is heat and decarbonisation of transport.
The topic of EVs was highlighted on numerous occasions during the day. It was notable that research showed customers would buy EVs because they want to tackle climate change and help the planet.
During the discussion on the Future Utilities’ Business Models, a distinguished panel reflected on the benefits of specialisation versus vertical integration. Keith Anderson of ScottishPower highlighted that it is a vertically integrated business. It is shaped by the value from investments in generation and distribution networks, which augment low economic value of the retail part of the value chain. Keith also stressed the value and focus of a future business should come from customer engagement and should boil down to customer relations.
Cath Tanna from Energy Australia also confirmed it runs a fully integrated business model. When addressing the question “How do you innovate as fast as specialists?”, Cath mentioned Energy Australia work with start-ups and acts as a mentor for aspiring energy entrepreneurs aiming to access the market.
During the second panel discussion on “The Future of Renewables: How to get to true subsidy-free?”, the panellists discussed the risks and mitigation strategies for investing in the renewables sector. The panellists from Ørsted, Greencoat Capital, Vattenfall and MUFG discussed a range of hedging strategies to manage merchant risks.
The next panel discussion was on “Emerging energy technologies: what are the next generation of disruptors planning?”. Participants heard from scaling companies, which are disrupting the status quo. Four disruptors pitched their businesses to two infrastructure investment firms (Foresight Group and Greencoat Capital) for just four minutes and were then grilled in short Q&A sessions
- Oxford PV specialises in perovskite film photovoltaic panels, which it says can increase energy generation potential. It reported that this makes the technology less expensive and potentially displacing silicone cells, which increase efficiencies from 22% to +40%. However, the main risk is financial. It is therefore looking increase scale via partnerships and looking for licenses to large manufacturers.
- redT Energy produce containerised energy storage units using vanadium electrolyte. This does not degrade, and the container has a lifespan of 25 years, performing better than lithium containers and supporting higher utilisation. It reported that it is building a “Gen 3” product with more power, energy and efficiency. It can be used for renewables storage expanding its share in energy and offering balancing features. It is looking to build scale and supporting latest trends, such as unsubsidised solar and acting as an enabler to the renewables’ disruption.
- Faraday Grid offers a distributed energy generation solution. It says that energy grid has not changed in over 100 years. It offers a new systems architecture for energy that balances itself. This is achieved through its Faraday Exchangers, which can put multiple devices onto the system to bring massive benefits. The most interesting benefit is balancing the grid, so therefore reducing the costs to the energy consumer. Faraday Grid is the internet of energy offering systems via energy as a service.
- Verv – make smart-home devices that non-intrusively connects to the smart meter and uses AI for insights into costs and usage. Its device can tell when the home devices are going to break down based on energy usage. It is currently exploring peer-to-peer energy trading using blockchain technology and is creating much more engaging customer experience of the future.
In the end, the participants voted for the best technology solution presented to them. Participants voted for Verv, which came out on top for the best technology solution presented, with its unique smart-home device concept. Gemserv recently had the pleasure of working with Verv, offering expertise around securing the Verv device and ensuring compliance with existing and upcoming regulations. You can read the case study here.
Overall it was a very insightful day and it was refreshing to have so many engaging conversations. I would recommend the event to anyone thinking of attending next year. If you also attended the event, I’d be keen to hear your main take-aways.