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Welcome Paul Hobcraft: New Expert in The Energy Collective - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]

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Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Mar 11, 2021 1:15 pm GMT
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If you’re not innovating, you’re falling behind. For much of the economy and industrial sector, that sentiment rings true, but especially in energy and utilities there’s so much on the line and so many inherent deadlines coming about: the threat of climate change, the danger of cyber breaches on the grid, risk of unreliable and non-resilient infrastructure, and more all spell potential danger to companies in the sector, their customers, and the wider economy.

It’s with this lens that Energy Central’s latest entry to the Energy Central Network of Experts is bringing his insight. Paul Hobcraft is an Innovation Knowledge Provider, advocating for businesses to be agile, flexible, and forward-looking. And as the latest expert for The Energy Collective, Paul is lending his voice to this important posturing in the Energy Central community.

To start his journey as an expert, Paul joined Energy Central for the traditional interview via the Energy Central Power Perspectives ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series’:

Matt Chester: A main goal of this interview series is to ‘introduce’ you to our community, so I want to start by giving you the floor to do so. What’s your role in the utility industry and how did you get to where you are today?

Paul Hobcraft: Actually, I feel I am an energy fraud. I am the outsider looking into energy and all those incredible ideas, experiences and offered advice. My job is to translate knowledge, in what I see and what I feel others might learn in my specific spin on this. Now to get to this level of expertise is actually hard work, you need to understand what the heck someone is talking about. You need to offset the application with a lot of research as I start at a real disadvantage, I am not an engineer, I have not worked in the energy industry, so my energy war stories are more from the perspective of the war correspondent. My job is to report back understanding from the front line, in this case the energy transition in this case. I come at energy more from the top-down understanding as I find so much incredible “bottom-up” knowledge, my expertise is piecing this together, so it adds ‘greater’ value or insight.

I often wonder about utilities and not so much in the role I play. They play a role that is essential, but my role is trying to relate to all that surrounds the utility. The politics, the policies, the diverse stakeholders, the experts offering advice more than 24/7 and making a “going forward” sense of all these, as there is real need to recalibrate and redefine the business model.  How can they be redesigned, navigate at this time of significant change, to be able to break free from their legacy, not their heritage; those are two different things. Are they today "fit for purpose" in the incredible energy transition underway? Are utilities the anchor in the practical sense, the ultimate service provider, or the ones weighing the clean energy charge down, due to vested interests?

In terms of how I got this role or engagement within the energy transition, well I see myself as the outsider looking in, perhaps a different type of expert, setting up for a very long energy transition journey.

What brings me here and attracts me to energy? I have lived on six continents, managing start-ups and turn around for approximately 50% of my business working life and consulting and advising for the other 50%. You build understanding and connecting possibilities from the diversity of experiences.

What makes me an expert in anything? Well, that is a good question. I have a passion in what I do, my job is to influence and inform, to bridge gaps, point out weakness and build a more compelling case for the energy transition. To get to this point, I invest in research, lots of research, in reading, investigating, in debating, in exchanging views, happy to keep learning and not close my mind to alternative positions and arguments. To live in some challenging places like Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Malaysia, or being responsible as one senior management role of a good few, for one of the biggest express delivery, courier and freight carriers to re-engineer their global operations and change the technology, living out of a suitcase for nearly four years you have to listen, absorb and navigate to encourage others to make the necessary changes required. The energy transition is that sort of listen, absorb and navigate path I want to make sure I can hold my ground, grasp arguments and positions, form opinions, give way where experience is clearly demonstrated and shown, share in this set of knowledge and insights ways that broaden out the understanding to make change. A sort of storyteller of energy.

 

MC: A core theme to the work you do is innovation. Can you define what exactly innovation means when it comes to energy and why it’s such a main area of focus?  

PH: Simply put, Matt, we will not get to the carbon reductions mandated by the Paris Agreement without innovation, period. The reworking of the fine line between risk, experiment, boldness, challenging the existing, searching for alternatives, in breakthroughs in technologies and design all require huge innovation and pushing out. Radical design is the sand pit for innovation, in technology, system and infrastructure rethinking that a change in energy delivery and consumption requires. Innovation is where I have been spending my time over the last twenty years, in consulting, advising and mentoring, it is the lifeblood of growth and impact and allows change to occur.

MC: For the utility professionals in the Energy Central audience, do you think the spirit of innovation is pervading the industry as much as it should? If not, what’s holding it back?

PH: No, it might be wanting and recognized as needed but it is far from pervading. Energy security and economic growth go hand in hand. They are a large part of a country’s ability to effectively compete and build wealth creation. Half of the world’s capital is invested in energy and its related economic value. Recognizing that changing energy, we change the trajectory of the world. Those that see that earlier will benefit in a changed environment. Changes need confidence but also a clearer fixation on the longer-term horizon and a compass to guide you to that destination point.

 

MC: The IIOT is also a core area of your expertise—how would you grade the state of IIOT within the energy sector today? And how can we ensure the right amount of time, attention, and money gets poured into this area to ensure it grows as it should?

PH: Digitalization is lagging, it has not been seen as essential for a more complex energy management system. That is rapidly changing today. To visualize, to simulate needs a digital connected world. Energy needs to scramble to catch up and make it far more central to the way forward. If the energy system is not intelligently connected, how can we effectively manage and improve it? Money does follow need and the energy system needs to be more effectively and efficiently managed.

 

MC: What motivated you to get more involved with the Energy Central community? How do you hope your role as a member of our Network of Experts will help your fellow utility professional?

PH: I think that is answered largely in your first question, Matt. Energy transition or change always needs the story or narrative, it helps offer alternative views or validates the why, what where, when, and how. To listen we have to be open to absorb, learn and navigate. My role, as stated in my LinkedIn profile is a transition advocate and knowledge provider.

 

MC: What final word would you like to leave your fellow community members with after reading this?

PH: I wrote a piece recently on Energy Central called ‘The Crucial Role Innovation Must Play in the Energy System Story.” This tells my positioning of pushing our present understanding, looking beyond the knowns, we need to group and articulate our innovation stores and deliver on my six main thrusts for technical innovation within the energy system. It tries to inform what I think we need to do: deliver on the energy transition in the years ahead with innovation being central to this as my area of expertise within the Energy Central community.

 

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Thanks again to Paul Hobcraft for joining our Expert Network and sharing his time and experience with the community. As you see Paul engaging across Energy Central, be sure to share any comments or questions with him to tap into his wealth of knowledge!

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

Discussions

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 11, 2021

Paul, it seems there's a current trend to believe that technology can rescue us from any predicament that befalls us. That if we just have enough time and money to throw at it, there's no problem that can't be solved.
This philosophy hits a stone wall, however, when it encounters physical limitations. The fastest sprinter in the world, for example - no matter how much money he spends on training, supplements, and the best track shoes - will never outrun a Ferrari in the 100-meter dash. It can't be done.
In the same sense, I get the feeling the bulk of current resources in energy are being spent on creating it where there is none, even though the inviolable First Law of Thermodynamics says that can't be done either.
Maybe it's time we let science speak with regard to renewable energy, too. Since every description of the "energy transition" seems to rely on it, does continuing to spend time and money refining it, tweaking it, or hoping for a miraculous breakthrough amount to buying our track star another new pair of running shoes?

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Paul Hobcraft on Mar 12, 2021

Nicely put Bob. No new shoes to shave off seconds is not the answer. Changing the generation of energy is.  

This planet is going to be uncomfortable in years to come for us humans, is the way Science is telling us.

We need to learn how to start running actually. We need to really search for those alternatives, that is a race to be run and won.

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