Decentralized Energy and Flexibility: Reasons to Believe
A stroll around the European Utility Week exhibition floor is usually a decent indicator of the latest trends in technology and services for the power sector. When I first attended in 2009, the conference was still called Metering Europe, and the floor was dominated by smart meters, communications technology and in-home displays. Above all, the emphasis was on products, which were invariably intended to be sold to utilities.
That picture has changed drastically in recent years. A tour of the floor this year will undoubtedly reveal some new trends, but two have already been apparent for the last couple of years:
- The emphasis is on end-customer services, combining distributed energy resources, flexibility, digital technologies and customer engagement.
- Utilities themselves are marketing these services – they are no longer just buyers of tech.
Bloomberg NEF research bears out these trends. Almost every large utility in Europe has a strategic focus on customers, and intends to increase its offerings in ‘decentralized energy’ – a heading that includes small-scale generation and storage, EV charging, demand response and digital energy management. Utility innovation programs are overwhelmingly weighted in this direction: in the three years to 2017, leading U.S. and European utilities made 106 venture capital investments into start-ups, and 80% of these deals were related to decentralized energy services. Europe is very much in the lead: seven of the 10 most active investors were European utilities.
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