Preparing for a consumer-centred energy future – Volker Beckers

Cornwall Insight’s Non-Executive Chair Volker Beckers outlined a vision for the energy industry’s future in the keynote speech at the 12th British Institute of Energy Economics (BIEE) annual research conference, “Consumers at the Heart of the Energy System”.

Beckers began the speech by drawing the contrast between the potential for the future energy industry with the rapid advancement of mobile phones over the last 20 years. In the latter case, “nobody really imagined that we would be as we are today” and that this resulted from “a cocktail of facilitative policy and regulation, and visionaries in industry spotting how to harness new technology to meet customer needs”.

A vision of household energy usage

Beckers then went on to describe a possible future for the way that we consume energy. In his vision, energy provision would be entirely based around individual consumer lifestyles and schedules. Households would consume, store and produce energy through low-carbon solutions, all coordinated by an intelligent and self-learning machine that Beckers termed a utilizen (a portmanteau of utility and citizen) platform, or UP.

This UP would be fully integrated into a household’s communications network, appliances and utility systems, with a smartphone or tablet link. It would purchase energy and allocate network access. The UP would also work to limit consumers’ energy costs through heat and power harvesting when prices are low with any excess stored for peak periods. Appliances would be metered to identify individual usage patterns, with the UP adjusting allocation accordingly. Furthermore, Beckers said, the UP would with personal calendars and schedules on tablets and smart-phones to build up an energy procurement and consumption profile for the household around the changing schedule of its residents.

Fully-integrated electric vehicles

Electric vehicles (EVs) also featured heavily in the future vision, with behind the meter batteries and solar panels providing charge for EVs, and the EVs themselves providing mobile system service to the network The future EV would likely have autonomous functionality that would allow it to find the nearest fast-charging station and return with the required amount of charge for any journey about to be made, under direction from the UP

How can this future be achieved?

Beckers acknowledged that this future is one of many possibilities, but all smart futures are contingent on a variety of dependencies. The harvesting of personal data is a fundamental aspect of a future where your home knows exactly what temperature to switch the thermostat to and how much charge your EV needs for your commute, or the school run. This means that there needs to be a GDPR-like standard to secure trust and consent from consumers for data use.

Additionally, Beckers argued, there needs to be a robust process of meter assurance and validation that is agile enough to accommodate new meters in real-time. There will also be a need for standardised communication system interfaces to ensure seamless compatibility and operation. This includes allowing streamlined access to wholesale real-time trading markets, in smaller clip sizes.

Beckers went on to explain that the objectives of regulators and governments need to be much better aligned. He concluded: “The change process for industry codes and rules, and how regulation and governance is pursued, need to integrate with, and be specifically supportive of strategic government policy objectives […] Only when governments and regulators are in unison will the imagined future of energy being an enabler of consumer lifestyle improvement become the reality.”

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