Following his panel at SuperReturn Infrastructure, UK Power Reserve Co-founder and CEO Tim Emrich weighs in on the technology that will reshape the power industry in the next five years.
While much has been made about the growth of the renewables market over the past decade, one of the biggest challenges remains aging infrastructure and a system that’s being propped up by incumbent utilities less than eager to embrace change. UK Power Reserve co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Tim Emrich, who participated at the recent SuperReturn Infrastructure conference in the last week of September, outlines his view around some of the ways the industry may evolve in the coming years. The following is an edited and condensed interview in which he shares his thoughts on what lies ahead.
UK Power Reserve invests in “flexible” electricity assets. Can you discuss for those less familiar with the UK’s electricity and power markets what you mean by flexible assets and how this serves the end customer?
It’s really about taking an innovative approach to harness old technology and improve it with fundamentally sound theory. When we discuss “flexible” electricity, for instance, we’re talking about fast-ramping thermal power stations and battery storage close to centers of demand, which facilitate a decentralized, “two-way” power system that utilizes low carbon energy, such as wind and solar.
There’s a transformation taking place in which consumption and energy production are becoming more and more spread out. The newer entrants aren’t saddled with older technologies and, more importantly, aren’t beholden to the old way of doing things. This dedication to what was tends to get in the way of the incumbents. But when you’re able to realize greater efficiencies from just an operational perspective, it can translate into greater stability, better service and less costs that are passed on to the consumers.
What’s your view as it relates to leveraging new technologies?
Renewables are becoming more dominant and that’s only going to continue. As that occurs, though, you’ll start to see a parallel focus on how not to waste energy. Power systems will become more and more intelligent; as a result, there will be added emphasis to ensure that no kilowatt is ever wasted, whether it’s due to human error or inefficient systems. It’s not as simple as just using solar or wind energy; grids will have to be controlled very efficiently and intelligently and that will represent the next frontier for technology and innovation.
There’s also a growing realization that each region or community may have varying needs, so you can’t take a one-sized-fits-all approach. Outside of the UK, for instance, you’ll see countries in which rural communities are many miles apart from each other. Repair costs for these more remote areas can be prohibitive. One of the technologies to serve these specific communities is a module that pairs a solar generator with a battery, so they can access energy whether or not the sun is shining.
By and large, though, I think there will be a significant change in how we buy electricity; the days in which the utilities dictate how we generate and distribute power is quickly evolving.
Can you discuss for a bit how the big utility companies and incumbent players influence the market?
The old guard is the old guard, and they’re deeply entrenched. For consumers, this isn’t a good thing, because right now -- operating outside of a traditional marketplace -- they’re not incentivized to improve technology, pricing or even how they treat customers. So you have these inflexible dinosaurs, incapable of change and unwilling to innovate, who instead dedicate their efforts to standing in the way of change. I think five years from now, however, energy consumers will look back and think of today’s utilities in the same way that most people think of Pam Am, as being emblematic of some earlier era.
So where do you see the industry in five years?
I think technology will be an incredible agent of change. In terms of the technology that will revolutionize the industry, for us, there’s a lot of excitement around the possibilities available through artificial intelligence or AI. As AI and machine learning capabilities advance, consumers may not necessarily recognize it, but it will allow operators to optimize their control rooms. You’ll see algorithms help inform or automate decisions that humans should be making today but can’t. And it’s not about replacing humans. It will allow companies to better utilize manpower; it will improve commercial trading; it will all come together to help drive top and bottom line growth, which can then be reinvested into the business to provide a better, more comprehensive offering. And that’s what consumers will recognize.