A landmark virtual event for the Australian utility sector, Digital Utilities took place over the course of two weeks in March 2021. This major summit consisted of four Virtual Conferences, diving deep into some of the critical challenges and focus areas for the sector, and providing delegates with genuine learning opportunities from some of the best and brightest minds across Australia (and the world!).

From 16-24 March, over 600 delegates registered to watch the summit live, or with the intention of watching the presentation recordings at their leisure.

The first conference of Digital Utilities 2021, Digital customer: digital engagement in a post-pandemic world, took place on Tuesday 16 March, and what an opening day we had!

Our international keynote, Lily Stein, Operations Manager at the UK-based Octopus Energy, spoke about how the energy retailer has maintained accountability and responsibility for its customers as it’s grown.

She also discussed Octopus’ unique operating model, which involves customers being randomly assigned to different teams and looked after by a group of energy specialists that have end-to-end knowledge of all customer experience processes.

South East Water’s Managing Director, Lara Olsen, spoke about the utility’s digital transformation journey and the impact of this on each of South East Water’s customer groups.

She made the excellent point that if we think only of customers as a distinct group, we miss the richness of the people we’re serving – which includes employees, suppliers, regulators and communities.

During our panel session, our three experts – Caitlin van den Berg, Head of Customer Experience Delivery at AGL, Andrew Crozier, Chief Product and Customer Officer at Aurora Energy and Brett O’Donnell, VP Customer Acquisition Solutions at Agility CIS – discussed the development of new products, services and business models to meet changing customer expectations.

All agreed that improving their data analytics capabilities was key to maximising the value of their customer relationships, and smart meters were a crucial technology in enabling this.

Richard Bergman, Oceania Cybersecurity, privacy and trusted technology Leader at EY, was our final speaker of the day, filling attendees in on the cyber security implications related to remote working.

He explained that the rise of cyber attacks has coincided with investment in emerging technologies and we are currently seeing a successful ransomware attack every 11 seconds! He finished up with some great advice to help utilities feel more confident in their cyber security capabilities.

Towards smarter energy networks

The second conference, Digital energy: towards smarter energy networks, took place on Wednesday 17 March, and featured a number of fascinating presentations and conversations.

Kicking off the day’s proceedings was CitiPower, Powercor and United Energy’s Head of Network Strategy and Non-Network Solutions, Greg Hannan, who spoke about networks as the enabler of the energy transition.

He touched on a suite of demand management and non-network programs that have enabled the utility to defer major capital expenditure and encourage permanent behavioural change amongst customers, explaining that “our approach is to pursue trials, develop capabilities and ultimately deploy these as BAU programs”.

Mark Vincent, General Manager Strategy and Transformation at SA Power Networks, was up next and talked about how distributed energy resources (DER) have created the state’s most pressing challenge – minimum demand.

He highlighted the initiatives underway to help meet this challenge and the options for managing the continued uptake of DER, the most significant of which will be flexible network connections.

During our panel session, our energy experts – Renae Sambrooks, Manager Customer Solutions at Horizon Power, Dr Peter Wong, Network Technology and Measurement Manager at Jemena and James Colbert, Chair, International Microgrid Association – discussed the challenges and opportunities that small-scale devices, such as rooftop solar, batteries and electric vehicles, and their aggregation in the form of virtual power plants and microgrids present for the way electricity is produced, managed and consumed.

Tracy Deveugle-Frink, Head of Change and Innovation at Western Power, was our final speaker of the day, filling attendees in on how the utility is building its capability as a Distribution System Operator (DSO), paving the way for real-time visibility of and response to what’s happening in the distribution network.

She also discussed Western Power’s Flexibility Services Pilot, which aimed to find the sweet spot between customer, commercial and technical feasibility, and shared some of the key learnings from this trial.

Safeguarding our water supplies

The third conference, Digital water: safeguarding our water supplies, took place on Tuesday 23 March, and featured a range of excellent insights and takeaways for attendees.

Our international keynote, Andrew Tucker, Water Efficiency Manager at the UK’s Thames Water, talked about the learnings from the first five years of the utility’s compulsory smart water meter rollout.

The smart meter program is re-writing Thames Water’s understanding of water use, wastage and leakage, and Andrew even logged on just before the end of the conference to answer any audience questions live.

Craig Earl, Head of Operational Technology at Sydney Water, was up next and explained the importance of customer engagement in conserving water during times of drought, with many people underestimating the impact of their efforts to save water.

He also discussed Sydney Water’s ongoing digital transformation journey, particularly the convergence of IT and OT, and its digital metering trial.

During our panel session, our water experts – Mark Stephens, Asset Analytics Lead at SA Water, Amanda Walker, Geospatial Technology and Services Manager, Dam Safety and Engineering at WaterNSW and Russell Riding, Team Leader Automation Delivery at Melbourne Water – discussed how utilities can leverage digital tools, such as smart metering, IoT hardware, data analytics and AI/machine learning, to optimise and automate water resource management.

eWater’s Chief Executive, Dr Robert Carr, and Executive Director Projects, Dr Geoffrey Adams, delivered a joint presentation on urban efficiency and water sensitive planning through water system modelling.

This presentation showcased the wide range of ways the eWater Source, Australia’s national hydrological modelling platform, MUSIC and Urban Developer are being applied by leading Australian water utilities to plan for sustainability and climate change.

Imagining the digital utility of tomorrow

The final conference of Digital Utilities 2021, Future utility: imagining the digital utility of tomorrow, took place on Wednesday 24 March, and was a very fitting session to wrap up the ten-day conference period.

Our international keynote, Shaunna Berendsen, Head of Innovation Engagement at the UK’s Anglian Water, shared how COVID-19 has accelerated the organisation’s digital transformation initiatives and her strategies for helping employees become more innovative and digitally minded.

Anglian Water’s innovation lab provides a real location for its teams and local community to innovate with the right tools and support, promoting and practicing open innovation to improve collaboration and skills.

An exclusive session from EnergyTech Hub powered by Startupbootcamp explored the impact of startups, offering practical advice for utilities on how collaborating with startups can benefit their businesses. In part one, Trevor Townsend, CEO at Startupbootcamp, outlined some guidelines for utilities who wish to assess and work with startups.

He also spoke with Jodie Hallam, GM Energy Services at Mondo, about the role startups and scaleups could play in the future to build new business opportunities.

In part two, Mike Harris, Head of Aviation, Defence and Key Verticals at Australian startup LexX Technologies, shared the organisation’s experiences and work with various corporations, including in the wind farm space.

Karen Buckman, Innovation Opportunity Specialist at EnergyAustralia, then shared the energy retailer’s views and experience of working with startups through accelerator and proof of concept initiatives.

Igor Sadimenko, Oceania Power & Utilities Leader at EY, was our final speaker of the day, and took attendees through plausible visions of the future of the utility sector, including changes for incumbent utilities, new service providers, regulators, policy makers and consumers.

He explained that utilities must make transformation an organisation-wide priority by placing humans at the centre, prioritising innovation at scale and technology at speed, and the sooner utilities transition to a fit-for-purpose business model, the sooner they will be able to protect their value loss.

The support from the summit sponsors – GHD Digital, WORQ, Cornerstone Performance Management, Innovapptive, Mondo,
Agility CIS, Madison Technologies, Schneider Electric, Hexagon PPM, Snowflake, Lanco Group, Bill Identity and Locusview – was also crucial to delivering a successful event.

For anyone who didn’t have a chance to watch the Virtual Conferences live, the entire summit can be viewed on demand; and individual presentations can also be viewed online too.

Visit to get immediate access to all the video presentations, speaker slides (where available), and the networking platform – not only does the conference platform allow you to watch the sessions at a time that suits you, it also enables you to connect with a community of industry professionals.

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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