12-14 November 2019
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20 Sep 2018

A Millennials Point of View – An interview with Andrew Reynolds.

Kevin O´Donovan

In the run in to the ‘A Millennials Point of View’ Initiate! session at European Utility Week, Kevin O´Donovan, EUW Brand Ambassador and social influencer, had the opportunity to chat with Andrew Reynolds, Graduate Engineer, E.ON, to get his thoughts on the current state of the Energy Industry in relation to diversity & attracting the next generation of workers into the industry.

  • Introduction

My name is Andrew Reynolds, I come from Scotland and I will be presenting at the Millennials session as a young person working in the energy industry. I graduated with a Masters in Mechanical Engineering from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh in 2017 and I am currently on the E.ON Engineering and Technology Leadership Graduate scheme.

  • What attracted you to the Energy Industry?

I initially worked as an intern in the oil & gas industry, which was booming given the amount of activity in the North Sea at the time. Through university, and during 2014 when the oil markets crashed, I developed an interest in renewables and I began working in the district heating industry, first with HWEnergy in Fort William, and then with E.ON. It was clear that there was massive change happening in the Energy Industry as it looked to transition from fossil fuel to renewables, and it was also clear that the industry as a whole had quite an ‘aging fleet’ and there wasn’t a huge amount of young talent coming through. Therefore, seeing there were massive changes about to happen, I was excited to join and actually be part of that transition and make a difference.

  • The Energy Industry is often portrayed as dull, boring, conservative, old and grey … your thoughts?

For years it has been. From a utility perspective, for years there has been little interaction between the utility and the consumer: it was just through the energy bill they received through the mailbox. But we are now being forced to change for a number of reasons. There is much more competition in the market, with smaller utilities popping up offering much better deals because they don’t have the overhead costs of the Big Six. And, with price caps just announced in the UK, utilities that do not adapt will very quickly become obsolete. You can call it the Blockbuster effect or whichever analogy you like. The expectation that you can just keep hiking prices and flogging energy to consumers will not cut it anymore, as companies who are a little more competitive and innovative, and who focus on customer service and new solutions, will wipe the rest of the competition out. And it’s not just competition from other utilities: there is the potential competition from Google, Amazon, companies who have massive customer bases already that could easily expand into energy and absorb losses through offering cheap energy deals. The next few years are going to be very interesting!

  • What’s been your biggest ‘a-ha’ moment to-date in your career?

I’ve just completed a placement with an innovation team, working between Germany and Sweden on the topic of Decentralized Energy Systems. It’s all around empowering local communities by enabling them to go off-grid through local generation. Our pilot project is the Simris community in Sweden, which has been enabled to become energy independent through local wind, solar and storage, as well as EV chargers and demand response technologies to provide additional grid flexibility. We have successfully islanded Simris from the main grid and tests are currently being performed to see how best to utilize the mix of technologies on site.  Given all the reported issues around renewables regarding intermittency, seeing that with the right mix of generation and storage, to see such a village be completely self-sufficient was a bit of an ‘a-ha’. With the right planning, being 100% renewable is actually doable and will become more accessible as prices continue to drop.

  • How’s this industry doing around diversity?

I have been lucky enough to work in teams of mixed gender, from different backgrounds and countries, but it is clear that this is not representative of the industry as a whole. The stereotype of older, white men dominating the industry can still be seen in a number of areas. There is so much change on the horizon in the Energy Industry in how we generate, sell and engage with customers, and there will be various new solutions needed in the next few years to solve the problems of today and tomorrow. Therefore, having teams full of people of all genders, cultures and previous industry experiences is required to give totally different perspectives to solve these problems. This industry does need to get new blood, as it will allow a fresh look at problems we have had for decades and help solve these in completely new ways.

  • If you could make 3 things happen in the Energy Industry tomorrow, what would they be?

1st would be to enabling quicker innovation. There are so many good ideas out there but procedures and processes in large utilities and regulatory red tape can quickly get in the way. It means that actually doing stuff that can really shake things up is quite slow and laborious right now. I’m not saying we need to completely de-regulate the industry, but we need to allow good ideas to move quicker. The Simris project shows how communities can be made energy independent, but there is absolutely zero incentive for grid companies to work with these communities right now, as it cuts directly into their margins based on the existing pricing structures. Only by changing the current structure to allow generating and distributing companies to mutually benefit, rather than one taking gains from the other, will result in the energy systems of the future being realized.

The 2nd one is engaging the consumer. We have to do a better job educating the customer so they understand how the way they use energy can influence the wider grid. Simple things like avoiding using the dishwasher at peak times can help us reduce spikes of demand, but consumers have no idea what is a good or bad time to use appliances. Therefore, increasing transparency of how the grid is affected by consumer actions is crucial, and I hope that future iterations of smart meters or apps linked to the appliances in your home can help to improve this. The energy industry also has to understand that regardless of all the talk about delivering solutions, being an energy partner and all the other flashy stuff, the customer ultimately wants their energy to be reliable and affordable. Some customers may like energy that is 100% renewable, includes off peak-tariffs etc, but we have to remember that at the end of the day, it must be affordable and reliable. Everything else goes from there.

My 3rd one would be incentivizing good behaviour. I mentioned changing the time we operate the dishwasher, but the customer is not going to change just because you want them to change, even if you ask them nicely. We must show them the benefit of changing their usage habits and how they can act upon this easily. If everyone does, we reduce costs related to upgrading the grid or installed backup capacity, and these costs should then be used to reward the customer, giving them a reason to change their behaviour and providing the generation and grid industries with various benefits.

Andrew Reynolds will share his presentation A day in the life perspective at A Millenials Point of view, Future of Work & Education, Young Talent session at the Initiate! Stage 1 - 07-Nov-2018 at 15:40 - 15:50.

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