Embracing change and the smart energy future - Drax

Embracing change and the smart energy future

How the Internet of Things will change the way we work and the way we use energy, writes Drax Retail CEO Jonathan Kini

Top Stories

It’s impossible to ignore the increase in the gadgets we all use every day. Our smart phones and tablets are now part of life – for better or worse. We watch programmes and films on smart TVs, downloading from companies like Netflix and Amazon as they challenge the traditional channels for our attention. Increasing numbers of us also monitor our energy usage in our home and workplace via smart meters and control our heating from our phones, helping us change the way we use gas and electricity, save money and help create a lower-carbon future.

But the more gadgets we get, the more we need them to be connected and able to talk to each other. That’s where the internet of things (IoT) comes in and where our devices and appliances become truly ‘smart’. The upshot will be better connectivity and, crucially, better data.

As birthplace of the industrial revolution, Manchester thrived in the 1800s despite increasing automation

Progress doesn’t come without challenges though. I was pleased to speak last week at the Hitachi Social Innovation Forum in London, run in conjunction with the Daily Telegraph, about IoT and how it will change the way we work. And I was interested to hear one speaker say that up to 79% of people are worried about losing their jobs to increasing automation and AI. Speed of change is now one of the biggest worries people have, because change is coming so fast.

I’m a big believer that we need to get people excited about change instead. And that has to apply at every level of the business. It’s not just about re-training people at the lower levels of business. Everyone from senior level down has to embrace it and develop a leadership culture which develops the next generation.

One of the things I enjoy most is learning from some of my younger colleagues. The conversations I have with them, as much more tech savvy individuals than previous generations, are utterly inspiring. It shapes my thinking about the changes we’re going to see and how we make the most of them. I can then transfer that energy and passion onto the rest of the team, helping them become excited about change too rather than fearing it. I think that’s absolutely vital in any organisation.

It will bring disruption and companies that don’t embrace that will get left behind. At Drax, we’re already thinking about how we prepare our people for the smart energy future. This has already begun with the roll-out of smart meters, including the latest generation we’ve begun installing for customers. It’s the second largest infrastructure project in the UK and will bring about significant changes, with data at its heart.

Why does that matter? Put simply, this data will revolutionise the way customers can manage their energy use and the way we, as energy suppliers, work with them. It will bring the kind of data which previously has only been available to large-scale industrial users to everyone’s workplace and homes. It will help businesses become more sustainable, as more and more want to be, and help us all use less in our personal lives too.

It gets better. As the availability of smart meters increases, and we reach sufficient scale, data from these devices could be used to control how energy is distributed across entire cities – perhaps even down to individual devices. However, there will be challenges too. As more and more devices come onstream, even with efficiency improvements, the national grid will have to adapt too to cope.

It’s an exciting prospect with a potentially very significant positive impact on delivering a lower-carbon economy and a reduced impact on the environment. It’s one of the main reasons I joined the energy industry and it’s something I remain passionate about now.

But to get there, it will need a closer, advisory relationship between suppliers and customers and the development of new products to help customers use energy only when they need to – and even generate their own power. We can’t expect customers to work this out on their own so training our people to help our customers understand how they use energy will become ever more important. And that’s why making sure our own people are excited about change will become more and more important. They can share that excitement with customers, engage them and the opportunity to use the advance of technology to create a lower-carbon future won’t be lost.