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Planning for disruption: the customer-led challenge

By Pene Newitt
Insight and Analytics Team Leader

The natural tensions that occur between the various governments, regulators and technology providers within the Australian energy sector are tugging harder and faster than ever before.

The convergence of multiple technological enhancements becoming more readily accessible and cost-effective in the same era (solar, batteries, electric vehicles, advanced metering), as well as the growing appetite among energy networks and their experts to lower costs by building these technologies into micro and nanogrids, means that there is a major shift coming for the energy sector.

One where customers are at the heart of change.

Behavioural change driven by lifestyle needs, coupled with a better understanding of new technology, is challenging the old energy norms. It is leading to a point where all pieces of the puzzle must work towards a singular, more nimble goal of what Australia’s energy future looks like.

A comfort zone, if you will.

Figure 1: The natural tensions between regulators, governments and technology are intensifying as customers become better educated about their energy options and their own behaviours evolve.

Under the current framework, the regulatory and government side is lagging behind technological advancements and customers’ changing behaviours. Disruptive technology and behaviours weren’t considered early enough.

Spending time with a number of national and international innovators and thought leaders at a recent energy innovation conference, has further galvanised this thought in my mind.

Planning for disruption?
Planning for disruption sounds like an oxymoron – how do you plan for the unknown?
When change hits, it can be swift and unforgiving. Just ask the Nokias or Kodaks of the world…

Trying to predict the future is a major challenge, but there are ways to build this disruptive behaviour into your forecasting and planning.

We’re doing it right now – strategically rebuilding our business to be nimble and flexible. We’re looking at how we can pivot quickly if the network we are planning suddenly doesn’t look like the right model – or needs to be tweaked to account for new, innovative products or services.

In some ways we can broadly forecast where disruptive technologies will be – but how quick the change will be and how pervasive it is are great unknowns.

 

Figure 2: We have 5 core customer segments. Research shows customer intent to adopt new technologies. Considering we have more than 1.1 million customers, widespread adoption of these technologies will have a significant impact on the grid. We are planning for how the grid can enable and support these technologies and other disruptive forces that enter the market in the future.

When looking at our forecasts, we have multiple teams analysing the short, medium and long term customer and network needs.

Our major challenge – and one that is shared by many of our energy network peers – is how do you bridge the gap to make sure you’re effectively planning for long, medium and short term, without overcommitting to any singular network path that could be disrupted?

Figure 3: Our Grid Transformation team is using data to build the complex connections between what our network looks like now and what it might look like in the future. We’re making “no regret” plans that will deliver the best value service for customers in a more nimble environment.

This involves understanding how customers will use energy in the future.

Our forecasting team is building scenarios that map energy profiles across the network, to the customer rather than to the substation. This is designed to be independent of the network that currently exists.

Customer profiling allows us to align disruptive behaviour, forecasts and scenario modelling in order to understand their needs moving forward from a cost, service, reliability and environmental friendliness (renewable energy) perspective.

What will this mean for the government, regulator, technology energy trinity?

Basically building a future network that is for the people. We just need to get everybody on the same page.

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