Distributed renewables coupled with AI and machine learning offer a heady mix of possibilities for recasting the UK energy system into something that gives the customer ownership of costs and carbon, but practical problems remain. Stephen Cousins separates science fact from science fiction.
The prospect of a decarbonised energy system is now tantalisingly close, pushed forward by an infusion of renewables into the grid, the falling cost of wind and solar PV power, and advances in energy storage and smart digitalisation.
A modernised grid could deliver more from less, at substantially lower cost, but it would also require a rethink of market structures and a system that incentivises suppliers to sell customers volume, leading to waste.
Keen to forge a new path, energy providers are experimenting with a range of new business models, products and services that redefine their relationship with customers and how they pay for their energy.
Energy-as-a-Service (EaaS) would see suppliers take over end-to-end management of a customer’s energy service to optimise efficiency and help them avoid the upfront capital costs associated with low-carbon heating systems. Time-of-use optimisation models leverage value from flexible energy sources by shifting electricity demand to cheaper times of day when fossil fuels are less in use. Other disruptive ideas, such as peer-to-peer energy trading platforms, lifestyle products and bundled services, also promise to transform the nature of transactions and suppliers’ engagement with the market.
The UK government has committed to fully decarbonise the energy system by 2050 and is currently working with UK regulator Ofgem and industry stakeholders to define the policy, legal and regulatory changes needed to future-proof the energy retail market.
As the principal interface between the energy system and consumers, suppliers have a key role to play in ensuring that customers get access to the benefits of a smart, low-carbon energy system, including increased flexibility and lower costs.
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