Electralink chief promises new innovation space – but warns ‘some people will go bust’

Innovators will be able to test out new types of energy services without having to make costly upfront changes to electricity industry rules in a new initiative by industry body Electralink.

‘Flow Builder’ will upend the usual change process, chief executive Stuart Lacey told New Power in an exclusive interview, because “what you don’t do is start with the code when you don’t have a clue what you want to do. You don’t want to have to do a change process to get a new flow [ie customer data process] onto the system, because by the time you’ve done it the market will have moved on” .

Instead, Flow Builder will allow companies to “create the flow, publish it, exchange information – so you might have a little ecosystem, say of demand-side aggregators” without necessarily knowing how it might be used or what structure of information you need for your innovation. It is the type of option that responds well to a hackathon approach, says Lacey. If the customer process has been tested and won support, implementing industry rules (through ‘code’ changes) should be faster.

Electralink was one of a handful of ‘central bodies’ set up at the time of energy privatisation to carry out services required by the new industry. In Electralink’s case, that meant the data transfer service (DTS), managing many of the key data flows across the industry – more complicated than it might appear, as they are up to 30 data flows in a change of supplier between parties as diverse as the meter owner, network and supplier. 

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Data Lacey says a lot of ‘use cases’ for industry data, “frankly should have been done years ago and they have been kicked down the road”. That includes, “ a long, long programme of digitising network assets.” Unlike most countries, in GB: “At the moment the only link between the retail world and the distribution world is the details of the number of customers on your network,” which is used to apportion ‘use of network’ charges. “Historically we have managed [network] as a physical asset without really using customer level information. [Networks] weren’t interested and they were not incentivised to have customer information.” That is not good enough when the network has to respond to what customers are doing – adding PV, EVs, heat pumps or batteries, or offering demand response, as well as using different amounts of power across the day. …

Innovation:  Innovation doesn’t come from a process of building consensus, it comes from lots of trying and failing: “I think we as a central body have to move to a ‘try and fail’ model … as opposed to a consensus-building detailed market design model, which given the pace of change doesn’t really work.  … “Some people that we speak to will go bust, but that’s the nature of the innovation process: try, fail, try, fail”.

Industry change  Lacey recalls his time in the telecoms industry  “It was a free-for-all, with many new players and a massive transformation. It’s a similar transition to the energy market, … You have to embrace the change and you have to operate in a way that means that you are relevant in the new world. Not everyone is going to be relevant.”

On industry rules  “There are too many codes. It is not just a question of banging them together, because that will give you three horrendously complicated codes.” “The fundamental is that underpinning it all is the customers have a right to their data and customers give permission to an organisation to use their data.” 

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The New Power Interview: Stuart Lacey, chief executive, Electralink When Stuart Lacey joined Electralink in 2010, it seemed as though company’s major activity on behalf of the industry might be about to fall away…

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