Karen Bellis: Start-ups can Change the Future of Energy



Karen Bellis is the Head of International Programmes at PNE Group where she works across the globe to support enterprise programmes that help start-ups to launch, innovate, and grow. In June, Karen attended the Financial Times Energy Transition Strategies Summit which explored the latest trends and issues impacting the global energy industry, and where leading industry figures addressed the increased demand on fossil fuel, and the plummeting costs of wind, solar and energy storage.

In the following blog, Karen offers her own insights into how start-ups are part of the solution to the demanding energy needs of a growing population and reflects on the key messages from the conference.

When we hear about the Paris Agreement, global warming or the ‘below 2°C’ consensus some of us are thinking about how we’ll maintain our current level of access to energy, be it electricity, car fuel or gas, while others are thinking about how we can reduce our imprint by choosing cleaner, renewable energy sources. As the world moves toward a lower carbon future there is a lot about energy that will change, including how it’s generated, transmitted, purchased and used. It’s a future in which the mix of energy we access and use comes from low, or no, carbon-based sources. In June, I attended the Financial Times Energy Transition Strategies Summit – Riding the Next Wave of Industry Transformation in London, to find out what this means for business start-ups here in the UK and globally, and in particular, what kind of challenges and opportunities businesses are dealing with now and will be in the future.

The message of the conference was clear: whatever you think, or think you know, about energy is changing, and will keep on changing. The days of centrally generated power, distributed on a fixed network of lines with only simple consumption data collected, are on their way out. Also, the mix of resources used to generate power is rapidly shifting, (watching www.gridwatch.co.uk is my new obsession, it shows the UK power mix right up to the previous hour. I’m writing this blog during the hottest and driest of UK summers, solar is way up and coal use is zero).

But what does this mean for business? Some of the Summit contributors felt that energy itself would not be the value stream in future, they expect real growth to come from subscription services on the consumer side of the energy meter – think next phase smart meters, demand response logarithms and connecting the battery on your electric vehicle to a network that acts as a country-wide energy storage asset. If you’ve considered using new battery technology based on Lithium-ion technology, search ‘Cobalt mining’ (a vital component of a Lithium-ion battery) on the internet to see the ethical challenges it raises.

Can start-ups innovate to help the world meet these challenges? There is space in the energy sector to develop, and sell, solutions that are digital, increase energy efficiency, transmit power, manage demand response networks and other technology not yet thought of. The potential for new ways of managing power distribution, blockchain applications, and the charging of batteries is enormous – small, agile start-ups could provide a solution.  Financial tech (Fintech) can help move the market to adding value for access to power (via smart meters) rather than just the power itself.

Energy transition means change, change means opportunity, and opportunity is what start-ups can thrive on.


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