Nigel Cornwall | 12 days of Christmas

For the final interview in our 12 Days of Christmas series, with issue 600 of Energy Spectrum out today, we spoke to Nigel Cornwall, founder of Cornwall Insight and Pixie Energy, a company looking to progress local energy market ideas and initiatives. 

Nigel reflected on Cornwall Insight’s journey since 2005, what the future holds for Pixie Energy and the importance of Energy Spectrum to both the company and the industry as a whole.

How do you view Cornwall Insight’s journey since 2005?

It has been very exciting and a bit of a rollercoaster.

There’s been constant growth. In early 2005, there were five of us and today there are 55. It’s been virtually linear growth since, and that has partly been because energy has been such a key issue in the political mind. It’s also because, as we have developed service, we’ve incrementally grown our coverage in breadth and depth. Working in the sector has always been exciting, it always challenging, and it’s always been topical.

From 2005, up until now, which trend or development in the energy sector have you found most surprising?

I think it’s hard to identify any one thing. We’ve had some great interviews, where people have identified a wide range of issues but there is a common core; the collapse in the cost of low-carbon technologies, which has been fundamental in the UK making progress towards our targets. That has been very important. However, we’re now beginning to think about how that impacts on today’s system, which is a fundamental first step to understanding what’s happening with the future system.

Another has been the politicisation of energy. The official view was wholesale energy and supply just for markets and not for politicians, and that they were working well. Curiously, we disputed that at the time. Subsequently, the sector has swung back the opposite way and many aspects of the sector are now politicised. I think that is an overreaction. Issues around fairness are very real now, while the political agenda is much more focussed on fairness and vulnerability and making sure markets work for all. That is very important, but it is very clear that there is not systematic profiteering in the industry. There have been a whole range of investigations that have basically given the market a clean bill of health. I have no reason to dispute those analyses. Indeed, we’ve supported them in those processes with data and insight that have emphasised how competitive markets have become. The same applies on the generation side of the market too, in different ways.

What has most pleased you?

Just seeing the business grow, which has been based on building a deeper understanding of what’s been happening in the market place. At the same time, seeing young analysts move into senior roles and becoming experts, some of whom know more than me, has been extremely satisfying.

What has most disappointed you?

The temptation to intervene and to overcommit processes. There are clearly issues around industry governance that have not been resolved. I think it’s a major challenge going forward as the pace of change is quickening. Whilst there’s a good understanding of many of the issues that need to be addressed to help transform the sector, the ability to deliver the necessary changes quickly and in a joined-up manner remains some way away.

What is Pixie Energy and how could it impact the industry?

The concept behind Pixie is very simple. It is to take our national knowledge assets, and some of the relationships, and apply it on a local basis to help drive change.

We’ve been greatly helped in that process by Sir Ed Davey, who is now of course back in politics but he continues to take an emotional interest in what we do. We’re beginning to now drive real, innovative projects that look at new ways of creating markets at the local level in both energy and networks. They should help deliver benefits to local producers who can capture higher values and also local consumers who can help share in the value of local resilience, local supply and other non -tangible things like participation and involvement in energy decisions that impact them. 

A lot of good work has been done and we’re now translating that into projects with the support of a range of local shareholders. We’re hoping that this year will be a very constructive and productive one as a consequence.

What New Year’s Resolutions do you have?

One is to continue to build on Pixie, another is to continue to support the strategic direction as Cornwall Insight grows.

Last year was a landmark year because we were able to bring in a very exciting strategic investor. We have a mandate for growth. We’ve got a great product line, we’ve got some great ideas for new services and we have real aspirations to grow those services, and to also take them into new markets. My resolutions are to continue to support the development of the company and the individuals in it.

Plus, I am delighted to have Volker (Beckers) on board as our new chairman. I know he will keep us all on our toes!

What do you feel the comment will be in the 2020 Christmas issue of Energy Spectrum?

I think retail markets will still be under scrutiny, while we will be looking at the cost of new technologies. Not the ones that are leading the pack, but things like storage and more interactive services around demand side solutions. We will be trying to understand how they can be properly positioned in a market that encourages innovation and where time of use tariffs could be an option for some. Of course, by then we will have admitted that market wide smart metering remains some way off and Brexit will still be dragging on, but hopefully with the UK remaining within the single market.

How beneficial do you feel the 12 Days of Christmas interview series has been?

I’ve really loved the series, it’s provided an opportunity to engage with people who we respect and I’m hoping we can extend our coverage of third party and expert views going forward.  

How important do you feel Energy Spectrum is, both to the company and the industry as a whole?

I’m a bit biased as I’ve edited it for 12 years, but it’s a job I still relish. It provides succinct, concise coverage of a lot of complex issues in a timely way that allows me to get on with the real job. It keeps me up to speed too!