By John Bradley, Chief Executive Officer – Energy Networks Association

For three days in April and May representatives from across the energy supply chain will gather in Melbourne to consider the progress, challenges and opportunities facing the energy networks sector for Energy Networks 2014 – The Future is Now.

The evolution of the energy networks sector means that delegates will come from a broader range of disciplines than ever before. Asset management, regulatory, engineering, information technology, innovation and strategic managers from within network business; senior executives and decision makers; new service providers who are at the forefront of smart-grid technology and services; as well as the more traditional, technical expertise that supports the vital assets of the Australian grid will take part in a conversation that is vital to an energy network that underpins the delivery of safe and reliable energy to almost every household and business in Australia.

Over 145 companies and organisations will be represented at the conference, with participants from across the globe gathering to share in a program that features a comprehensive line-up of national and international keynote speakers and panellists across the plenary sessions of the conference, and presentations that address the four conference themes: Engagement; Innovation; Assets and Gas.

It is not just the Australian energy grid that is experiencing seismic shifts in the energy generation mix, technology, energy use and in consumer preferences. The global conversation about the future of the energy system has been taken to a new level in recent months, with groundbreaking research analysing potential energy futures based on trends in technology, markets and customer participation.

For the first time, robust and empirical analysis is emerging which helps to inform significant commercial, policy and regulatory choices facing stakeholders.

The UK’s Energy Research Centre has examined ‘Scenarios for the Development of Smart Grids in the UK’, the USA’s Rocky Mountain Institute examines the Economics of Grid Defection, and Australia’s CSIRO Future Grid Forum Report analyses Australia’s electricity pathways to 2050.

Energy Networks 2014 – The Future is Now will demonstrate that the modern energy network is more than just ‘poles and wires’. Network businesses are evolving to meet a dynamic environment, subject to the significant shifts in regulation, technology and consumer expectation.

There will be new approaches to service delivery, pricing and technology – which will be underpinned by a commitment to customer engagement. Far from being obstructionist – energy network businesses have an important role to play as facilitators of the changes happening in the system

As new technology and a wider range of energy-supply choices become available to consumers, the grid continues to play a vital enabling role. Even with on-site generation and the deployment of frontier storage technology the grid will still be required for back-up supply and other services.

Looking to the near future there are significant benefits to be unlocked for customers in reforming network tariff structures, promoting demand side participation and reflecting consumer expectation and choice in investment decisions.

As this takes place the core business of energy networks, to deliver safe and reliable energy, does not change. The shifts within the energy network sector will be complemented by the existing expertise in managing the grid.

This year’s conference continues the Energy Networks Association’s longstanding commitment to sharing best practice and innovation in the sector. With unrivalled access to the leaders and experts in the sector, the conference and exhibition will be the premier event for the energy networks sector to be held in Australia in 2014.

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