May 17, 2020

Does Offshore Infrastructure Have a Chance?

4 min
Nord Stream Construction
FRIENDS OF THE SUPER-GRIDEurope has long been a purveyor of renewable energy, but surprisingly its been at a stalwart in its initiatives to reduce tota...

FRIENDS OF THE SUPER-GRIDEurope has long been a purveyor of renewable energy, but surprisingly it’s been at a stalwart in its initiatives to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions through green technology. Friends of the Super-Grid have emerged to reduce that gap. For years, European scientists have developed plans that would create 100 gigawatts of clean energy from offshore wind power, but little had been done to accelerate the production processes. There are various offshore wind turbines already connected in the North Sea, but the Supergrid would combine them into one.

“The objective of Friends of Super-Grid is building a new grid in Europe using new technology, where we can profit from all the renewable energy sources available. It would start in the North East of Europe, taking advantage of the offshore wind potential, and enlarge to cover the rest of Europe – solar from the South, biomass in the East. We are trying to develop the first phase of the Super-Grid,” says Ana Aguado Cornago, CEO of Friends of the Super Grid.

The association has partners in a variety of established fields, like wind turbine manufacturer AREVA, global dredging company DEME Group and Siemens, who are making a full-time impression on the EU Council and North Sea Countries Offshore Grid Initiative. Though the proposal has been around for roughly a decade, building the Super Grid gained a lot of ground last year. The initial agenda aimed development concerns toward a transnational grid infrastructure in the North and North West Seas, with a focus on the North Sea’s offshore wind structure.

“Interests developed more recently because members’ states have agreed on a political memorandum of understanding to develop an offshore grid, which will be the first part of the super-grid involving the North Sea,” Cornago continues. In November, various European countries signed an agreement to begin exploring the possibilities for North Sea offshore wind farms.

Along with political support, technological advances have also enabled the Super Grid to commence. HVAC technology, installation vessels and marine generating plants are all areas of expertise that will enable the Super Grid to connect all types of renewable energy resources in the North Sea. HVDC technology, according to the Joint Research Centre, is the most suitable technology for the task. Their July report measured the increased use of HVAC systems since 1962, where 50 percent of the world’s capacity was installed after the year 2000.

For more than a decade, plans to transport Russia’s extensive gas resources to Europe have been in motion. In 1997 when Russian researchers, international engineering facilities and North Transgas Oy first began taking a proactive approach to developing an offshore pipeline that was economically sound and efficient, offshore technologies were hardly in existence.

Fast forward to 2011 and the North Stream project is greeting the final stages following permits approval late last year by the Regional Administration Agency for Southern Finland. Nord Stream was also hailed a “Project of European Interest” in the Trans-European Energy Networks, acknowledging that Europe’s natural gas future import concerns could be cause for future dilemmas. In 2007, European Union has imported 312 billion cubic metres of natural gas, and by 2030 that number is expected to increase by more than 200 bcm. This project will provide 25 percent of the EU’s natural gas requirements, if not more.

“The idea of the Super Grid is to connect all these projects up across the North Sea and North of the Atlantic, so that if the wind isn’t blowing in one place, it’s probably blowing somewhere else. The idea is that you balance the energy across the continent. It would work by high-voltage direct current cables undersea between difference countries linking together the national grids and linking together all the wind farm projects already planned in the North Sea right now,” said Guardian’s green technology correspondent Alok Jha.

In April 2010 construction began for the first line of piping, with gas deliveries expected to start at the end of 2011. Both pipes will be fully operational by 2012, offering full capacity at 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year and will run 758 miles in length, connecting Russia’s Baltic Sea with Germany’s Baltic Sea’s Lubmin coast. The piping are high-tensile coated to underwater specifications in accordance with DNV offshore standards OS-F 100, with a thickness that ranges from 27 – 41 millimeters, depending on pressure.

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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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