Meet our members – Peter Atherton, Core Group member, London Group Lead, Resilience & Reliability Working Group member

I have now lived and worked in London for over 30 years. Originally from Liverpool I came to London in the late 1980s to work as a civil servant in the Cabinet Office. At the time one of the most interesting things government was undertaking was the re-organisation and privatisation of the electricity industry so I applied to work on the industry privatisation team. Thus began a lifetime’s interest and involvement with the electricity and wider energy sector.

After working on the privatisation for a number of years I joined the newly formed National Grid Company. The UK was the first major country to separate out its energy networks and subject them to independent economic regulation. Since the early 1990s many other countries have adopted the UK model and it’s a model that has, to the surprise of some, largely survived the test of time.

After several years with National Grid I left to pursue a 20 year career in the City as an equity analyst. Over that time I worked for a number of large investment banks always on energy sector related activities.

UK Power Networks is currently undergoing its latest price control review, RIIO-ED2. This review, conducted by the independent regulator Ofgem, will essentially do two things. First, it will determine how much money the company will invest in its network across the three regions it serves – London, the East of England and the South East of England – in the five years starting in 2023. Crucially the review will not only set the amount of money to be invested but will also set the priority areas for that investment within each of the regions. Second, the review will determine how much UK Power Networks can charge for its services from both domestic and business customers.

Some commentators have argued that the price review process creates an uneven input from consumers. To a point the law requires the regulator Ofgem to act on behalf of the customer in negotiating a “good deal” with the network company. And this has been fairly successful from a bill perspective, with Ofgem being good at forcing the network companies to increase their efficiency and productivity in order to keep bills down.

But Ofgem has faced challenge on their approach to ascertaining what customers really want from their electricity service, what priority consumers place on the environment, and what actions beyond just ‘keeping the lights on’ they are willing to pay for.

Of course finding the answers to the questions is difficult especially in a huge metropolis like London. The needs and priorities of a resident in Tower Hamlets may differ from a resident in leafy Esher. Equally the needs of a factory in Deptford may be somewhat different from the City of London Corporation.

The Customer Engagement Group (CEG) is an attempt to partly fill this information gap. I serve on both the Core Group which looks across UK Power Networks’ three networks and I also lead the London Group. I don’t see my role as ‘speaking for the consumer’ - how could I possibly speak for 9 million Londoners! But rather my role is to ensure that UK Power Networks have made every effort to engage with their customers, large and small, that they have properly analysed customer feedback, and that what they have learned fundamentally informs their business plan for the price control period 2023-2028.

In particular I am keen to ensure that UK Power Networks listens to all its customers, both large and small, vocal and quiet. There are many organisations who are pushing their own agendas who would drive UK Power Networks to invest in assets and systems that ultimately benefit themselves. London also has a specially large and articulate middle class who tend to take a particular view of the priorities that the company should follow. The role of the CEG is to make sure that whilst these important voices are by no means ignored, other voices are also heard, including the voice of small business and of the less engaged residents.

UK Power Networks’ London asset base provides one of the core services that allows London to both function and prosper. It is beholden on our generation to pass on this vital asset to future generations in good condition and in a state that serves their society and economy well.