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Apr
24

What does a 'fair' energy system look like?

It's widely understood that we are in the midst of an energy transition driven by the need to de-carbonise and the broader trends of digitalisation and decentralisation / democratisation. Sustainability First has been engaged in these debates from a consumer stand-point for a long time including running a major multi-party project from 2011-2014 wh...
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Mar
12

Ofgem RIIO2 Sector Specific Methodology Consultation: How Ofgem could raise its game on low carbon in RIIO2

The RIIO2 price control process is set to shape customer and consumer service levels and investment plans by the GB energy networks for years to come. Over the past year Sustainability First has taken a strong interest in how Ofgem would frame its approach in the RIIO2 process towards low-carbon facilitation by the energy networks. Not least, an im...
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Mar
11

Utility Regulation in a Disrupted World: Guest Blog from Cathryn Ross

​ On 7th March, Sustainability First and Frontier Economics held a joint event on 'Future thinking on utility regulation and fairness.' We had some great speakers including Cathryn Ross, Director of Regulatory Affairs at BT Group, Alistair Philips-Davies, CEO of SSE, and Adam Scorer, CEO of National Energy Action. Cathryn shared a personal perspect...
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Feb
12

The nationalisation challenge: Understanding the possible drivers behind support for public ownership of utilities

With both Labour and Conservative parties set on a more interventionist course in relation to the utilities, and polling continuing to demonstrate steady and significant support for public ownership, energy and water companies are well aware that 'the nationalisation challenge' is one they need to meet head on.However, in order to do so, and in ord...
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Feb
08

What do public purpose, philosophy and public service values mean for the energy and water sectors?

In the face of the nationalisation challenge, and concerns around social justice and democratic deficits, many energy and water companies have started to ask themselves fundamental questions about what they are there to do and the impact that they want to have as a business. Across a whole range of sectors, academics, politicians, and of course com...
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Jan
21

Encouraging greater household consumer engagement in demand response

In December of last year, Energy Futures Lab published a briefing paper by Dr Richard Carmichael, Dr Rob Gross and Dr Aidan Knowles, Unlocking the potential of residential electricity consumer engagement with Demand Response . This paper represents an excellent contribution to the debate, assessing the evidence base so far and setting out some futu...
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Jan
14

Letter from America

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Last year Sustainability First was invited to present to a delegation of commissioners and public advocacy groups from California on the consumer and public interest issues in energy in GB. On a recent trip out there I was able, among other things, to call on reciprocal hospitality and met with Wyatt Lundy of the California Foundation on the Enviro...
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Jan
11

Our waste, our resources - let's not waste the opportunity for more radical change

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As we get back to work after the break, many of us will be reflecting on the fact that Christmas is often a time of excess.A time when much gets consumed – and much gets wasted: food, packaging and unwanted presents to name but a few. At the end of December the government published its eagerly anticipated Our waste, our resources: a strategy for En...
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Nov
12

Walking the talk – what might a ‘Sustainable Licence to Operate’ look like for water and energy?

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With almost a quarter of the population living on incomes below the poverty line (after housing costs), and with nearly one in three children living in poverty and the rate rising, the issue of fairness is very much in the public spotlight. As providers of universally used essential services, energy and water companies are in the front line of thes...
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Oct
26

Time for a new approach to political and regulatory uncertainty and risk in the energy and water sectors

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Uncertainty and risk relating to fairness and the environment are not new in the UK energy and water sectors.However, new challenges faced by the sectors demand a fundamental rethink of today's treatment and handling of both – be this by government, regulators, company managements and/or their investors.This is not simply about a nationalization ch...
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Oct
15

Upping the ambition level for smart meter data

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The smart meter rollout has featured regularly in the news over recent months, with much debate about the wisdom of maintaining the 2020 deadline and with the distinction between SMETS1 and SMETS2 having made it into everyday parlance. Sustainability First has long supported the case for smart meters as key to delivering many of the changes needed ...
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Jul
21

Policy, regulation and public interest outcomes in energy and water: navigating a disrupted world

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The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Climate change that may exceed 1.5° warming unless 'rapid and far-reaching measures are taken.'What Michael Gove has called 'the unfrozen moment'. What do these three disruptors – technological, climate and societal - mean for the UK energy and water sectors and what challenges do they pose for policy makers and re...
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May
21

Research Spotlight: Project Inspire on identifying vulnerability innovation

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How do we know what good vulnerability innovation looks like? Francesca Moll and Zoe McLeod share some thoughts from our Project Inspire report Sustainability First's Project Inspire was set up with the aim of improving service delivery and quality of life for customers in vulnerable situations, and to make sure that the benefits of innovation...
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May
09

Sustainability First’s Project Inspire ‘A catalyst for change’

Groundbreaking work on innovation and vulnerable customers supported by many, including CEO of Ofgem We are on the cusp of a revolution in the energy industry. Millions of smart meters have already been installed in homes in Great Britain. Alongside artificial intelligence and other new technologies, this could provide the potential for a digital t...
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May
08

Time for a more coherent approach to low carbon in energy networks

Ofgem's RIIO2 regulatory framework - currently out for consultation - will shape - and endorse many tens of billions of new network investment in the period from 2020–28. At this initial stage in designing the RIIO2 framework, Sustainability First is proposing that serious thought be given by Ofgem, the network companies and others with an interest...
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May
01

Don’t get tangled up in the pipes and wires

Don't get tangled up in the pipes and wires or purely hung up on returns, says Sustainability First Director, Sharon Darcy.  Instead ensure public interest outcomes flow through the RIIO2 framework 'like the lettering in a stick of rock' RIIO2, the new price control for energy networks, may not sound the most exciting development in the energy...
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Apr
25

Over 25 organisations work in partnership in ground-breaking public interest project

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Sustainability First's innovative New Energy and Water Public Interest Network (New-Pin) project is leading the way in thinking about the long-term public interest in energy and water. On the 28 th of February representatives from over 25 organisations battled through the Beast from the East's snow to attend the final New-Pin conference at Church H...
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Feb
26

Demand for change

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Francesca Moll explains why an active demand side is the key to unlocking some of the greatest challenges in the energy and water sectors.

Lawns paved over. Cars going unwashed. Sirens in public showers.

This is everyday life for ordinary people in drought-stricken Cape Town, South Africa. The city has been experiencing the worst drought in 100 years, and will shortly approach a ‘day zero’ where the majority of the city’s water supply is shut off and water rationed through collection points around the city.  This gives us an early foretaste of the formidable environmental challenges energy and water may face in the coming years.

Pippa Malherbe, resident of Cape Town suburb Somerset West, is one of the many South Africans who have had to adapt to the city’s new normal. She has installed a host of water efficiency measures in her home to help her and her family keep within the allowance of 50 litres a day per person.

She has pipes to collect used water and runoff from her shower, gutters and washing machine, which is used to water her garden and flush toilet cisterns. She reports not using municipal water for this purpose for over a year. Rather than shower every day, Pippa and her husband bathe in their pool, which they keep topped up with water they buy from those lucky enough to have access to boreholes.

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Feb
22

Making sure the public interest is not lost in translation

Before we create the energy and water systems of the future, we have to ensure we’re all on the same page. That’s why the New Energy and Water Public Interest Network - New-Pin’s -consensus-building work is so vital.   In this blog, Francesca Moll and Sharon Darcy explain what we’ve been doing.

How do we hear the public interest voice in the energy and water sectors?  It isn’t always easy to have a constructive discussion.

Rightly or wrongly there is a feeling that voices of ‘ordinary people’ remain unheard at the heart of the energy and water industries. Companies faced with this charge may see things through another lens; how best to meet the challenges of climate, socio-demographic and technological change whilst operating under an intense political spotlight and delivering a significant amount of policy and regulatory change.  Government and regulators may have a different perspective again, often focussed on the need to address short-term affordability pressures within electoral and regulatory cycles.

Given such divergence, how do we find a way forward? What does fairness look like? Who is responsible? And how do we ensure we’re future-proofing our energy and water systems so that they continue to serve majority needs in the future?  Fairness, after all, is relevant not only within generations but also between generations.

These questions have never been more vital. Energy and water face huge upheaval. With the technological revolution represented by digitisation and the smart energy meter rollout, a polarised political mood, the need to prepare for a low carbon future and the risks represented by climate change, it is clear that the stakes are high.

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Jan
04

Innovation in energy and water - Keeping out of the way or aiding experimentation: What’s an appropriate role for Government and regulators?

Sharon Darcy summarises the latest New Energy and Water Public Interest Network (New-Pin) thinking on innovation.

Innovation is a hot topic.  In this period of significant economic, social and political uncertainty, and powered by big data and new technologies, experimenting with new ways of doing things is in itself becoming the ‘new normal’ in many walks of life.

The energy and water sectors are not exempt from this change.  External and often global threats, driven by digitisation and evolving customer expectations but also demographic and climate change, means that the counter-factual to many new ideas is not necessarily the status quo.  To provide short and long-term affordability and resilience, new ways of doing things may be needed.

Innovation in energy and water poses some specific challenges.  Markets can help innovate in many areas in the sectors.  However, even markets need frameworks and rules.  On their own, markets are also unlikely to innovate around certain desirable public interest outcomes, including long-term resilience, fairness and place.  And when there are monopoly activities, and / or imperfect competition, as is frequently the case in energy and water, the extent of innovation may be limited.

Government and regulators have a difficult tightrope to walk here.  Innovation is not an end in itself and is frequently a journey of discovery.  Keeping out of the way may allow ideas to flourish but these may not meet public interest outcomes.  Intervene too early or too generously and accusations may follow of picking winners or actually creating new barriers to doing things differently.

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