Last week (Wed 4th/Thu 5th March) the electricity industry met for its annual conference, Downstream. I’ve been attending these conferences since they started and this one was the most enlightening of the lot. The presenters, mainly heavy-hitting utility CEOs and industry players, were quite forthcoming with their views and opinions. This was in great contrast to last year when an election was looming as well as stock market floats of some of the bigger players.

It was great to see one CEO saying how much we confuse customers with complex billing structures while another said consumers weren’t interested in information, they just wanted to know how to pay and when (talk about old-world thinking). The following presentation from Saatchi & Saatchi, which focused on consumer distrust and confusion of some industries, certainly highlighted that consumers aren’t willing to just pay the bill without knowing what options they have to control it.

A key point of discussion was the complexity around distribution (lines company) billing and the unsustainability of pricing based on consumption when costs are based on capacity. The biggest distribution company, Vector, discussed the future of smart devices and distributed generation (solar) tied to storage (batteries) and how that would totally change the game of network planning.

There was general agreement that electric vehicle (EV) interest is increasing and most distribution companies are looking at how to both support them through charging and use them as potential battery storage.

The gas industry looked at the increasing use of gas as an alternative to electricity and how their market and regulations are evolving to mimic electricity, hopefully without the complexity.

All in all, Downstream is the place to be if you want to meet up with all the main industry players and hear what they think and (fortunately) hear others challenge their assumptions. I’ll be definitely going again next year.

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