UK Power Networks received the European Utility Week Community Energy Award for the energywise project – a partnership between ten organisations, led by UK Power Networks, to investigate how to plan for our future energy needs. It is the first low carbon network fund to specifically address the fuel needs of low income households. The project is pioneering ways for distribution network operators (DNOs) to work collaboratively with energy suppliers and local intermediaries.
The partnership is made up of ten organisations, led by UK Power Networks, including Tower Hamlets Homes, Poplar HARCA, The Bromley by Bow Centre and with funding from Ofgem, the national regulator.
In an interview with Metering & Smart Energy International, Giulia Privitera, innovation engineer at UK Power Networks, expands on impact that the project has had in several communities as well as the biggest challenges facing the utilities sector and finally, three predictions for the energy sector in 2017 according to Basil Scarsella, chief executive of UK Power Networks.
What impact has the project had in the organisation?
GP: energywise has engaged with hundreds of social tenants in one of the most deprived areas in London, the Borough of Tower Hamlets, and has successfully delivered smart meters and energy efficiency devices and advice to this community in East London. It is the first Low Carbon Network Fund project funded by Ofgem, to specifically address the needs of those in fuel poverty and enable them to get the most out of energy saving and different tariff structures that encourage people to use energy at different times, a concept known as demand side response.
UK Power Networks is leading the way among Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) on alleviating fuel poverty, which is a serious issue that affects 4.5m households in the UK according to the government’s statistics.
We have gained many insights into customer engagement, informing the organisation on how best to reach customers, especially those who are vulnerable or considered ‘hard to reach’. This is a new area for DNOs, who do not bill customers directly. By learning from our project, UK Power Networks has held eight energy efficiency workshops with five housing associations this year. This is a great outcome for us because it shows that findings from energywise have been quickly translated into ‘business-as-usual’ practices and replicated in other areas of London.
What personal learning have you taken away from being part of this project?
GP: I am personally delighted to have led a project that has delivered real insights into and benefits for some of our most vulnerable customers, the people who need us most. It was a great honor to represent the team at the European Utility Awards in Barcelona alongside Mark Hughes from Element Energy. The award demonstrates that, as a company, UK Power Networks is taking the issue of fuel poverty seriously.
The most invaluable learning I have taken from the project focuses on how to put customers at the centre of our business strategy, listening to them to understand their needs and how best to serve them. The UK is currently in the middle of a national rollout of smart meters, and this project has given me an insight into how this technology can support behavioural change, improving people’s lives while providing invaluable data to inform the industry on how to shape a flexible, smart energy system.
What strengths and unique perspective did you bring to the team?
[quote] GP: I have always been passionate about energy, sustainability and innovation, with a key focus on the human aspect. Working in UK Power Networks’ innovation team for the last three years has helped me to develop strong stakeholder engagement skills and a wider understanding of the energy system, which are two critical elements of the project.
Before joining UK Power Networks as innovation engineer, I worked at the University of Cambridge as a researcher in nanotechnology, a field that combines several disciplines ranging from physics, engineering and material science. My academic and scientific background brings both the rigor and analytical and logical thinking that is key to successful project management. It also allows me to think out of the box and have a versatile approach to the innovative solutions that we are exploring as part of the project and more widely in the business.
What do you see the biggest challenge being for the utility sector going forward?
Basil Scarsella, chief executive of UK Power Networks said: “The impact of electric vehicles, and storage in our networks is the usual answer. We are planning for the future, getting ready to ensure we lead in innovation but meanwhile the majority of our staff are concentrating on keeping the lights on. To me the biggest challenge for utilities is to make sure we continue to improve our customer service and when we have a major event (in our case a storm which damages power lines for example) we respond very well for customers. At the same time, we must build a flexible network that will enable us to adapt to new technologies such as distributed generation, storage and electric vehicles.”
What are your top 3 predictions for the sector for 2017?
Top three predictions from Basil Scarsella, chief executive of UK Power Networks:
- The cost of renewables will continue to decrease and demand for storage will increase significantly putting pressure on network owners to continue to connect to an already stressed network.
- Meter vehicle manufacturers will continue to innovate in electric vehicles (EV) making them more affordable and longer range and, therefore, demand for EV charging infrastructure will grow significantly.
- Air quality in major cities like London will continue to grow as a major challenge ensuring that the focus on CO2 reduction through electrification of transport and decarbonising electricity will continue.