Reader question: Are `utilities` still a useful grouping? How else might we view the provision of these services?

We asked five questions addressing how the public and private sector, and regional and national bodies, can work together to help the energy sector become more distributed, greener, smarter and more flexible. Why? Because utilities and utility regulation are facing dramatic change. The Labour Party wants to bring public ownership back. Local government is seizing the initiative, using utility services to leverage development. Meanwhile, new consultations  could see the shape of the regulatory landscape change for the first time in decades. With the help of market research company Accent, New Power sought views on these issues from our expert forum.

This week we present some of those comments and we’d like to add yours.

Q4 Are `utilities` still a useful grouping? How else might we view the provision of these services and others (eg telecoms, transport) to businesses and consumers?

The definition “hasn’t been used in a meaningful way for twenty years now.  Nobody really links them together in a precise way.”

“There are a collection of engineering, risk management and customer management capabilities which utilities have which are required to provide vital services to businesses and consumers.  However, other companies have some or all of these capabilities and digital capabilities are increasingly valuable and demanded by customers.”

 “A utility is necessarily subscription based. It may be that that is also sufficient to define utility.”

“Utilities are basic purchases which are largely unavoidable for consumers in most cases.” “If you define utilities as the provision of the essential products for home and business life then you would add in telecommunications, broadband, and TV, and possibly mobility solutions for transport”

 “Many aspects of the energy market are moving away from the utility nature of the core physical product … to create parallel largely digital markets and services”

“There is a need for the meaning of utilities to embrace the emergence of decentralised grids and the reconfiguring of current institutions, changes to retail markets and energy efficiency, and the cost and benefits of integration of distributed or intermittent generation.”

 “Utilities are an outdated concept.  Customers want services such as heat, comfort or communication, not to buy commodities such as gas.”

What’s your view? Use the comment box below to add your voice

See earlier questions:

Q1: Where do you think the opportunity for public ownership exists in energy, and where might it be beneficial?

Q2: What lessons should we learn about public or social ownership from previous experience?

Q3: What aspects of governance or regulation could be devolved to other organisations closer to users? To whom and how?

Subscribers:  login to read the full report in the April issue.

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