Kevin O’Donovan, Consultant

“The perception out there is that most energy companies are ‘slow’ when it comes to new technologies, but I’d argue that this is a bit unfair. If you look at the technology…in my opinion, they are adopting new tech as fast or faster than many other industries.”

(SF) What made you get into the energy industry?

(KO) Back in 2006, when I was leading strategic marketing for Intel EMEA, being ‘Green’ was a key topic. As we worked through all the aspects of being ‘Green’, the opportunity for new business development for Intel became clear. And this was before the Internet of Things was a thing. Roll forward a few years and I was asked to spin up and lead Intel’s Enterprise Sales group for the Energy Industry, which was one fun ride. I learned a lot and became fascinated with the amount of technology and innovation ‘under the covers’ across the whole Energy Industry ecosystem. So when I finished up with Intel a few years back, I’ve simply continued my technology evangelization role in the wider Energy Industry.

(SF) In today’s industry, there’s a whole buffet of choice when it comes to new tech. Which technologies are you most excited by at the moment?

(KO) There are so many technologies and given I’m known to be attracted by ‘shiny new things’, trying to pick a few is hard, but I have to say that I am spending a good bit of time looking at Energy Storage Technologies. Be that the ‘traditional’ battery tech or the mechanical batteries, compressed air, ultracapacitors, thermal batteries, and hydrogen etc, etc. 

(SF) Are energy companies switched on to the benefits of new technologies?

(KO) The perception out there is that most energy companies are ‘slow’ when it comes to new technologies, but I’d argue that this is a bit unfair. If you look at the technology under the covers of the generation, transmission, distribution, in the home, in buildings, in energy storage, in my opinion, they are adopting new tech as fast or faster than many other industries. That said, don’t expect your traditional Utilities to jump on the latest technology fad and roll it out overnight. Utilities have a duty of care to keep the lights on. They can’t simply roll out a new tech without knowing it’s actually going to work and the lights are not going to go off. Now the industry can always go faster.

(SF) Which trends of innovation in the industry are you most surprised by?

(KO) This might be a bit off-topic but the biggest trend I am surprised with is the number of utilities companies that still have an ‘Innovation Group’ or an Innovation process that ‘the team over there look after’. This is a complete waste of time. Innovation is and has to be part of everyone’s day job…

(SF) What’s the most innovative application of a technology you’ve come across in the industry?

(KO) I’ve come across a few that made me stop and do a double-take. eSmart Systems using ‘video gaming engines’ to create hundreds of thousands of images of grid assets in order to train their image recognition AI, Sarcos Robotics with their exoskeleton, Tesla Suit with their haptic feedback bodysuit for VR training, CMBlu with a lignin-based organic flow battery, 3D printing of steam turbine blades, saltwater heat pumps in Denmark … I have a long list.

(SF) Most people are engaging with the power of technology and innovation, but face roadblocks when it comes to implementation. What’s the number one barrier to implementing new technologies you come across?

(KO) Someone in a Utility taking a risk and making a decision. It’s way to easy to hide behind many different excuses and not make any decision to change anything. Now I get all the reasons why “We can’t because …’ but hopefully some of the societal pressures building up around ‘Do something NOW..’ will get us all to make decisions faster. Prevaricating and putting off taking any decision is no longer an option.

(SF) What are you most looking forward to learning about at the Future of Utilities Summit 2020?

(KO) I often say I don’t know what I don’t know. So I am looking forward to finding some new technology, some new innovation that I was not aware of … what I am NOT looking forward to is sitting through  ‘generic’ presentations telling me that we are in an ‘Energy Transition’ and being told: “Here’s what we are thinking about doing something but we can’t because …”. That time is over.

Seb Fox

Sector Manager – Utilities

Seb Fox is the sector manager for our Future of Utilities portfolio. He keeps an eye on industry developments, hot topics, and puts together our conference agendas. He’s been with the company since 2017, having graduated from Mansfield College, University of Oxford.

Follow him on Twitter here: @Futureofutils