Editor’s weekly: Political turmoil hampers innovation direction

Continued uncertainty around the direction of travel for policy and regulation with regards to decentralised energy technologies and system responsibilities makes it difficult to measure innovation success, says Network's editor.

Editor’s weekly: Political turmoil hampers innovation direction

Delays to key consultations on the future of the energy system rumble on.

The smart systems call for evidence, highly anticipated at industry events this summer, was still to be issued at time of writing and sources close to a range of future energy projects at Ofgem and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy tell Network there are now “tens” of studies, consultations and other documents waiting to see the light of day, held back by political expediency.

This is the inevitable and anticipated upshot of the political upheaval of recent months. But nonetheless, it places a frustrating brake on the process of transformation for an energy system which is, in places, groaning under pressure for change.

As energy networks and their commercial and technology partners push ahead with innovation projects, there is a natural desire to see the findings of these adopted into business as usual operations.

However, with clarity lacking over the future of local system operation – by networks, National Grid or undefined third parties – as well as uncertainty about pathways to decarbonised heat and the role of key technologies like carbon capture and storage in enabling this, it’s difficult to know what business as usual ought to look like. Are we making progress when we transfer project findings into today’s business models? Or are we creating sticking plasters which will be deemed irrelevant by some future revolution in regulatory structures, network charging regimes or competitive markets?

Measurement of innovation success is tricky at the best of times. But when you don’t know the shape of the market that government and regulators want to create, it becomes more troublesome than ever.

And now for something completely different:

One another note, while technology and regulatory issues often dominate discussions around energy system change, the issue of industry skills is never far behind. 

Networks have already invested a great deal in upskilling employees to deal with changing technology and modes of operation. They’ve also squared up to the challenge of replacing the high number of workers due for retirement in coming years with apprenticeship and graduate recruitment programmes.

But the demand for skills across the energy industry and wider infrastructure sectors is much greater than any one company can answer alone and there is a need for more collective and coordinated action which can be more than the sum of its parts.

With this in mind, Network is proud to count itself among the delivery partners for a new energy and utilities sector skills strategy, spearheaded by Energy and Utility Skills Group. Look out for more news on this in the coming months. The strategy will be published before Christmas this year.


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