Dec 8, 2017

Data sharing: A new driver for revenue

Energy Storage
Leila Hawkins
5 min
Data sharing could saving the UK government $92,000 every MW
By not sharing data, the UK energy industry is missing out on savings of $92,000 for every MW of peak capacity, which equals $5.3bn per year...

By not sharing data, the UK energy industry is missing out on savings of $92,000 for every MW of peak capacity, which equals $5.3bn per year. This includes key players like the National Grid, investors, battery manufacturers and management contractors.

The figure was arrived at by QBots, a company providing renewable energy solutions to businesses, and Foot Anstey, one of the UK's top 100 law firms. The two undertook research into reducing infrastructure spend across the distribution network and the grid, having a greater security of supply by not relying on fossil fuel plants, and balancing energy supply at a local level rather than at national transmission levels. The report found that if the main energy players were to share their data effectively across these areas, it would result in huge efficiency savings and new ways of working, opening up additional revenue streams.

A whole new industry has formed to manage increasing amounts of data. One new system that has been developed is the blockchain, a method of storing and sharing data in highly secure "blocks,” the most famous example being the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. Chris Prichett, Head of Energy at Foot Ansley explains: "That's a system we're likely to start seeing more and more. It involves everybody sharing information and a huge amount of processing power, but as an enabler of a smart localised grid that's where the future is, and will be within five years.

"Blockchain will make a huge difference to the way we generate, consume and account for energy," he continues. "It will be the biggest single driver of information change in the energy market, and the volume of processing requirement for a blockchain system involving energy is enormous."

While it is a closed, secure system, it will make it possible for people to share their data in urban environments. "If I don't use a certain amount of electricity in a day I can sell it on to my neighbour, who may not use all that and it spills over to the next neighbour," Pritchett explains. "All of that extra energy and selling gets automatically paged into my account under a self-completed transaction, which is all recorded by blockchain technology."

The concept of sharing

The potential savings of data sharing will vary across the world. The US has very different grids and infrastructures, whereas throughout Western Europe data sharing is far more ingrained into operations, where suppliers are more accustomed to pooling information and using it to drive the market.

"We have seen quite a few pilot projects with aggregation of domestic batteries, particularly in the Netherlands, which clearly require an awful lot of information being accessible to a lot of different people," Pritchett says.

"Germany in particular has this concept of municipal energy, and municipal energy generation. That drives their approach to doing things. In that sense, Europe is a bit more advanced in its thinking."

However, he adds that the UK is making big inroads into financing research, "particularly looking at battery technology and performance. About $368mn has just been announced for the Clean Growth Plan. There's a whole load of really exciting research, presumably on the understanding that everybody will be able to see the benefits of that research, and apply that to a market to make it mature."

In terms of how receptive companies are to sharing data, it depends on what they perceive its value will be. "For some organisations it's quite straightforward and they think it's a good idea, for others it's a bit alien because historically they'd always jump to protect their own IP, and they'd want to make sure their information is better than that of their competitors. From a profit-driven, commercial base it's coming, it's always a change in the way of thinking," he says.

To begin data sharing, someone needs to take the lead before others follow: "It's the confidence and the worry that you might do it and no-one else does it back," Pritchett notes. 

Smart cities - the future

Some organisations are already implementing this. Tesla is one example, with its scheme to share autopilot data with their partners.  In the UK Smart Cities initiatives are trialling similar models, such as putting sensors in recycling skips so councils know when they are full, and using data for people to identify available parking spaces before they've left the house.

Smart cities are clearly the way forward. As Pritchett explains, "that's one of the more intriguing conversations where there are often formalised arrangements for people sharing data. That's sometimes driven by the Open Data Institute and people who are trying to facilitate the development of smart systems or cities – whether that is energy, particularly looking at transport infrastructure, air quality, or generally liveable cities – rather than smart for smart's sake."

Developing smart cities is where a lot of demand is going to be driven, however it will require commercial organisations to change their attitude towards data sharing.

"We're doing pretty well in the UK in certain places, and parts of the US do it really well too," Pritchett says. "Cities like Tel Aviv seem to be getting on top of this. I think the concept of cities taking more control over their systems and improving traffic, air quality and energy usage, and becoming energy independent, represents not only great opportunities for people within those cities to have a better quality of life, but also for commercial organisations to get involved.

"In order to do that they're going to have to change the way they look at information and the way they look at the data they're generating. That's going be a very exciting opportunity."

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Jul 13, 2021

Technology revolution for water retailers

Paul Williams
4 min
Paul Williams, Chief Technology Officer at Everflow Tech, reflects on privatisation, industry complexities and future for utilities in a digital world

In April 2017, the UK’s water retail market in the world opened for business – the single biggest change to the water sector since privatisation. This development allowed businesses, charities and public sector organisations to shop around for the best deal.
However, like any industry, this change hasn’t been without its sticking points; here, Paul Williams, CTO at Everflow Tech (pictured far right), discusses how retailers can harness technology to their advantage

Our CEO, Josh Gill, set up independent retailer Everflow Water in 2015, and Everflow Tech is his response to the difficulties it faced.

Quotations could take up to a week to produce, billing software had to be manually updated and brokers were unable to manage the complete customer journey in one place – all of which took time, cost money and allowed for human error.

The more complexity that was involved in billing or quoting, the more contact end customers needed to have with their retailers, pushing up the cost to serve for every SPID. This meant retailers – ourselves included – found themselves in a situation where profits were simply eaten up by service costs.

We also note that it can traditionally be hard for retailers to stay on top of balancing what they are charging their customers with what they are being charged by the market. To further exacerbate this, the longer a change goes unnoticed, the more trouble it can be to balance the issue.

It was these issues that Josh and his (at the time) small team wanted to ameliorate, creating their own technology in the absence of anything else.

This technology evolved into our award-winning retail sales, billing and customer management platform for the water retail market, and Everflow Tech was launched as a standalone venture in 2018, selling the software externally for other water retailers and their customers to benefit from.

What retailers want

As a relatively new entrant to the world of utilities competition, the water market could be seen to be lagging behind, particularly when it comes to innovation.

In fact, as recently as 2019, Ofwat said it expected the industry to be making technological advances and to be working with a culture of innovation, collaborating with companies both within and outside of the sector.

And with cost-savings for consumers traditionally lower than for other utilities, retailers need to be offering something more – whether that’s better support, energy-efficiency advice or more accurate data.

What’s more, consumers have had a taste of the power of technology, and they’ve come to expect nothing less from retailers across the board.

Another key issue – thrown into sharp relief during the past 12 months (and counting) of a pandemic – is rising levels of arrears, which are likely to increase bad debt beyond margins that retailers originally allowed for when the market was created.

In such a low-margin industry, there is a limit to the amount of debt retailers can take on, especially as recovering costs can be a very slow process. Ofwat has signalled that this issue could be addressed as early as this year, with a mechanism for recovering bad debt to be established during 2021/22. 

The market needs simple solutions to better serve the end user, and we were perfectly placed to develop those solutions. At Everflow, our software is designed for the water retail market, by the water retail market.

As well as simple billing, clear-to-understand workflows, and a revenue assurance system to allow retailers to quickly compare market charges, Everflow has also introduced a complete debt solution, allowing missed payment dates to drive late payment charges and escalations automatically.

Retailers are able to design and put out their own bill and quotes, tailoring customer journey and overall experience – whatever the circumstances.

What does the future hold?

Automation is key to any industry; we’re heading into an age of driverless cars and smart homes, and this drive for tech will filter through to our industry, and we need to catch up. 

The Internet of Things – a network of physical objects connected to each other – means human error (and effort) can effectively be removed from many everyday tasks, which goes for meter readings too. However, in the 21st century, the water market is still not leveraging previously emerged technology in the form of smart meters to provide accurate billing. 

Consumers are also becoming more empowered, both to ask for information and change their preferences if they don’t like what they learn. Retailers need to be armed with this information, not next week, not tomorrow, but now – and, at Everflow Tech, we’re putting that information at their fingertips.

But the retailers themselves need to speak up too, and we will always work with them to get the best ideas on what needs to be developed and when.

Our strong bond with Everflow Water, along with other key customers, means we have a direct interest in making sure our systems serve the water market in the best way they can. 

For us, the goal is to make sure retailers on our platform can grow as much as possible, leaving behind laborious daily processes to focus on their own strategic growth and, most importantly, helping their customers.

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