Betting on the new and shiny world of innovation

I’d gamble good money—maybe up to 20 whole Euros today—that you hear the words “innovation” and “digitalization” more times at industry meetings and conferences than you used to hear the phrases “smart meters” and “smart grid.”

We all want to be innovative, and no one can ignore the push to digital. So we all agree these newer discussions are good beginnings, but what are the next steps? How do we dig down into the details to make all this innovation and all this digitalization actually happen? And what are the hurdles to getting there?

“Yes, this industry is in the midst of a significant transformation,” said Martin Dunlea, Utilities Industry Strategy with Oracle, while opening the European Utility Week session Technology and Innovation: Thinking Ahead on the last morning of the show.

He added that looking for value and understanding how these innovations and transformations align with real customer use cases, IT requirements and cultural issues.

“We’re talking about making digital transformations a reality today, but maybe the question is how can utilities get the most from that transformation?” he told the audience while introducing his speakers.

Olivier Grabette, Vice CEO of RTE (the French transmission operator) built on Dunlea’s question about squeezing the most value from all this digital innovation, telling the audience that as his company is expecting to see global demand stabilize or decrease in the near future, and this means a whole new role for their transmission grid—and a whole lot of thinking about innovation to make up for that dip.

“Our ambition is to build a new grid that intimately couples digital and electricity,” he said, revealing, of course, that this ambition will not be met without a few problems to solve: how to integrate new digital solutions into traditional infrastructures, how to shift a transmission system operator into a smart grid operator and how to incentivize the development of digital solutions.

Etienne Gehain, Business Development-Energy Communities at Engie discussed his company’s hurdles with innovation and digitalization in similar terms as Grabette: how to balance global and local, how to balance the individual and the community and how to figure out when you need human smarts of AI.

So there are still a large number of small details to examine and unpack as the utility world gets more data and more ways to use that data.

“Self-disruption is the only way to go,” Gehain concluded, putting the onus of transformation details back on utilities themselves. In other words: Don’t let other people disrupt you. Disrupt yourself before that happens (and before you’re blindsided by it).

The next speaker, Kaspar Kaarlep, CTO of Elektrilevi talked about the details of doing just that, self-disrupting (and in ways beyond just another pilot program).

“Investing is easy. Using it is hard,” Kaarlep noted. “Just putting a digitalization bolt onto existing business processes will not create a digital utility.”

Kaarlep’s company considers their smart metering program as the backbone for their digitalization and are now building up and out with analytics. What have they learned from this process? Two major lessons: A digital utility has “digital built in,” and tech choices must support the organization and the business.

After all, you’re not digitizing for the mere sake of digitizing. You’re in it to win it—to make it work for you as your utility more completely and full evolves.

Want a short cheat sheet on how to make all this innovation and digitization work? Click here.


Our coverage of European Utility Week (EUW) is now complete. You can look back at the coverage on both the blog and on Twitter, too (#EUW17). Or read more here:


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