Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Welcome Bill Buchan, New Expert in The Digital Utility Community
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- Jan 9, 2020 4:20 pm GMTJan 7, 2020 3:40 pm GMT
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The digitization of all aspects of the utility business has transformed the utility sector, not only through new technological opportunities but also by shifting the attitude of decision-makers to embrace new trends and evolve more quickly than the power industry ever has before. As these digital trends continue to advance and change even more rapidly than they had previously, staying on top of the latest developments becomes more critical but also more difficult.
A great way to make sure you’re up on the trends in the digital utility is to rely on the experts who are knee-deep in these developments each and every day, which is why the Energy Central network of experts for the Digital Utility Community is particularly valuable. With that in mind, we’re happy that this network of digital utility experts continues to expand, with our latest expert being William (Bill) Buchan.
Bill is the founder and CEO of Market Potential and, as you’ll read, he has spent his long and impressive career consulting parties in the energy industry across topics including power generation, sustainability business strategy, regulatory issues, and blockchain applications in the sector. As has become customary with our new experts, Bill agreed to introduce himself to the wider Energy Central community via the latest entry in our Power Perspectives™: ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series’ that will allow you, our readers, to get to know him better:
Matt Chester: I first want to thank you for agreeing to become one of Energy Central’s newest experts. Can you introduce yourself to the community and share your background in the energy industry and with regard to digital utilities?
Bill Buchan: I've been working now for 30 years, and throughout my career, I've worked in the electricity industry. A lot of it's been on the generation side and different clean energy technologies. My function has been, for the most part, as a management consultant and as Advisor to start-ups in the clean energy space.
In more recent years, as shifts in new technology happen, it has taken me towards the digital transition in the utility industry and looking at different technologies there, whether it's blockchain or AI. I've had a chance to work with some of the most forward-thinking, aggressive start-ups in blockchain and AI that service the utility industry.
MC: In addition to being a digital utility expert, you also have great experience in commercializing technology for clean power. Can you talk to how digitalization of utilities and clean power go hand in hand?
BB: Unless a utility has a tremendous access to hydro or nuclear, clear power for them is going to mean solar and wind which, unfortunately, is intermittent. The critical issue here is being able to manage intermittent generation and still transition one's grid to a cleaner, greener level of power. That's where digitization comes in. It allows utilities to move through this transition which, because of the intermittency, requires more near-real-time management of power generation than ever before.
Currently, you can manage the spinning up of different generators when they're fossil fuel and baseload on an hourly basis. Well, you just can't really do that with the intermittency of wind and solar because the weather can change so much in that one hour. Having near-real-time management is what digitization really allows utilities to manage intermittent sources of power well.
MC: Sometimes areas of the digital utility trends can suffer from a level of hype and reliance on buzzwords that might leave people skeptical, such as the idea of the “democratization of energy”. How do you separate the hype from what’s going to really be the technologies that meaningfully transform the sector?
BB: Phrases like the one you pointed out, that “democratization of energy”, is an example of that hype. It's a phrase that's thrown around quite a bit, thrown around in the United States and even more so in the EU, and it's gotten to have many meanings for many different people to the point where we don't really know what it means anymore.
When I work with the startups that I advise, I tell them not to use those kinds of hype words, those hype phrases, as catchy as they may be. When I come across these problems which we're trying to point to here, you know, I try to focus on the technologies and the use cases that go with them, so the potential users understand the value proposition that they can bring to their organization.
In fact, in September, I noticed that there was this problem with blockchain here in the U.S. There are utilities that had heard about it and just didn't understand the use cases of the value proposition that blockchain could bring. That inspired me to alter an article which was posted on Energy Central in September called "Blockchain Use Cases for the Electricity Industry." This is aimed specifically at getting to that sort of core problem of “What can I use blockchain for in my utility?”
MC: Many of the digital trends, and even the clean power trends, happen on the utility side of the equation but don’t actively engage the customer with what’s happening. How do you think utilities can get the customer-side more involved with it comes to the digital transformation of the utility sector?
BB: I think this is so important. It's going to become increasingly important in the future. Another way to describe what you've said is that there's not a lot of customer engagement with utilities today. The energy consumer is there making decisions on their own without engaging the utility as to what the best solution might be or, to put it another way, the best solution the utility could possibly provide.
With today's technology, consumers can in fact put their own solar or their own wind on their property, and they can also include batteries for storage. These are not good outcomes for the utility, and you would think that utility and its ability to aggregate power, aggregate clean energy as well as fossil fuels, would probably be in a better position to offer a better solution to all of its consumers if it was better engaged. What you find is that by and large in the U.S., this is not done well. There are some exceptions. In the state of New York, you see a greater degree of customer engagement; and in the state of Texas, where there is real competition to supply energy, you see much greater consumer engagement.
The same reasons applies in the EU where they don't really have monopolies, but they have the ability to pick and choose who your energy provider is. There, you see better consumer engagement too. I see this moving in that direction, and so I see consumer engagement as something that is really important as utilities move forward. At the same time, you see startups that are using AI to address consumer engagement, and specifically for the utilities throughout the U.S. and the world.
MC: As you’ve started to get involved with Energy Central, what do you find to be the value that the platform brings to you and to the industry? Why do you participate and stay so engaged, and how do you hope to bring value based on your experience and knowledge to fellow Energy Central users?
BB: Energy Central brings together a wealth of perspectives, which is really important. Too often we can just work within our own boundaries and our own little silo and think we know everything when we really don't. The value of Energy Central is to bring together all these different perspectives so that we learn from each other. I've always found that true in my consulting career, and I think that true also of the Energy Central platform.
MC: Any last words for the Energy Central community readers?
BB: I would love to engage more with the Energy Central community, especially people working in utilities and ESCOs. From my humble perspective, I think this next digital transition is going to be focused specifically on those two groups and how well and how quickly they transition is going to affect all of us who are stakeholders as part of the electricity industry. I would love to engage with them more, whether it's through posts and response posts or privately regarding their specific challenges on messages on the EC platform.
Please join me in thanking Bill Buchan for sharing his experience with the community in this interview and for bringing his expertise to Digital Utility Community of Energy Central. Now that you know him a little better, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask Bill questions in the comments sections or just say hi