Last November, the team from Utility headed to Sydney’s Luna Park for Australian Utility Week, the annual event which brings together industry leaders to discuss and debate the challenges facing the industry.

The 2015 event centred around the theme of Building the Digital Utility, a concept which many attendees are currently navigating. The event provided a welcome opportunity for delegates to share information on how they are adjusting their strategies to transform into digital enterprises.

Organised by Clarion Events, the conference revealed that despite disruptive technologies sparking rapid transformation of the energy sector, the industry has not shied away; instead, most are jumping at the chance to develop new strategies for the future of Australia’s power generation.

Key focus groups centred around:

  • How to best generate a digital advantage using M2M strategies, sensors, AMI and analytics platforms,
  • How to improve customer experience via social networks, self service and new billing formats and,
  • How to effectively operate new business models using disruptive technologies.

Sydney Water Managing Director Kevin Young opened the event, sharing insights into the way his organisation has promoted customer engagement from the inside out, by driving efficiency improvements across the enterprise. As water utilities digitise over the coming years with smart meters, cloud storage and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, they need to transform internally across all areas of business, including the in-house IT departments.

According to Mark Henley, Director of Transformation and Digital Strategy, Adobe, Asia Pacific, customer expectations for utilities to provide a seamless online experience is ever-increasing. He noted that 40 per cent of S&P 500 businesses will not exist in ten years time, and because of this, utilities must improve the way they connect with their customers in order to reduce churn and ‘keep up’ with mainstream online technology.  

How to mine data effectively was also a hot topic, as utilities grapple with how to best manage the streams of customer and usage data now becoming available to them. According to Mr Henley, only 12 per cent of customer electricity data is currently used by utilities. Given this, he argued that it is more important for utilities to have access to quality data – as more data does not equal bigger or better outcomes.

In another popular session at the event, Senior Director Smartgrid Solutions at Itron Asia Pacific, Paul Nelson, discussed the societal and technical challenges involved with microgrids. Mr Nelson questioned who will manage these networks, and how the industry will go about doing this responsibly. He also made it clear that there is a lot of work to be done in terms of developing management strategies for the changes in energy flows of the centralised grid during connection and disconnection of these microgrids.

Also up for debate was the effective management and distribution of electricity tariffs for localised grids. Jay Rutovitz, Research Principal at the Institute of Sustainable Futures, presented an in-depth research project sponsored by ARENA, titled ‘Facilitating Local Network Charges and Local Electricity Trading.’ The aim of the ongoing project is to bring together a partnership of consumers, researchers, electricity providers and the government to help level the playing field for local energy and prepare for the electricity grid of the future. This involves facilitating the introduction of reduced local network charges for partial use of the electricity network, and the introduction of Local Electricity Trading (LET) between associated customers and generators in the same local distribution area.

Industry collaboration and development of new and innovative solutions will form the basis of forward motion in the industry, as utilities and energy retailers prepare for digital transformation. It will be interesting to see just how far the industry will have come by the next Australian Utility Week, which will again be held in Sydney from 29-30 November 2016.

What the delegates thought

“Australian Utility Week provides like-minded industry participants an opportunity to interact and share ideas and thoughts outside the usual workplace.”

David Hutchison, Customer Portal Manager, United Energy and Multinet Gas

“A very good and informative session hearing Australian Utilities’ experiences and learning about customer engagement, data insights and disruptive technologies. Highly recommended for all management staff in the utility industry, as well as analysts and engineers.”

Joel Hung, Analyst, Mainpower NZ

“Australian Utility Week is an opportunity for us to share our successes, as well as our challenges, learn from each other and look for opportunities to improve the services for the ultimate benefit of our customers.”

Kevin Young, Managing Director, Sydney Water

Jessica Dickers is an experienced journalist, editor and content creator who is currently the Editor of Utility’s sister publication, Infrastructure. With a strong writing background, Jessica has experience in journalism, editing, print production, content marketing, event program creation, PR and editorial management. Her favourite part of her role as editor is collaborating with the sector to put together the best industry-leading content for the audience.

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