Meet our members – Peter Bennell, Eastern CEG member, Customer Working Group member and Resilience & Reliability Working Group Co-Lead

The energy industry is complicated, and few customers understand how it works. Many have never heard of electricity distribution businesses like UK Power Networks. However, they play a crucial role in keeping our lights on and with the growth in renewable electricity and the move to electric vehicles and low carbon heating, they will be even more important over the next ten years.

Historically the energy regulator (Ofgem) has represented customers in its oversight of businesses like UK Power Networks. In my opinion this needs to change because of both the scale of the challenges facing UK Power Networks as it comes to terms with major new and uncertain demands on its networks and the need for more active and regular influence over its plans by customers. I was delighted by the opportunity that the Customer Engagement Group (CEG) gives to strengthen the voice of the customer in Ofgem’s regulatory process and for customers to influence UK Power Networks’ strategy and customer focus as it prepares its business plan for the next regulatory period. I hope that both I and the other CEG members can help cut through the complexity and ensure that customers are better heard.

We have all benefitted from investments made in the 1950s and 1960s when the National Grid was established and electricity was brought to rural areas. Much of the infrastructure laid down then is still in use today. However in some areas the economy has outgrown the existing network and substantial reinforcement and new investment is required to enable an expansion in the use of renewables and to unlock business projects and opportunities. This is of particular importance to businesses, developers, builders and generators who rely on having adequate capacity to carry out their business operations. The CEG will be looking at how UK Power Networks plans to respond to customer concerns such as these in its business plan. In the past, Ofgem has been careful to avoid customers today paying for tomorrow’s capacity. At the same time, customers today have benefited from earlier investments in the 50s and 60s that would never have been made under the current rules. I’m looking forward to challenging UK Power Networks on how it plans to engage with customers on these types of issues and ensure that good opportunities are not frustrated by a lack of capacity on the power system.

Finally, much has been achieved since privatisation of electricity in 1990. The costs of distributing electricity are lower and efficiency has improved. Both will still be very important going forward. UK Power Networks faces competition in some of its activities, but due to a lack of market providers in the smaller connections space, UK Power Networks still has an effective monopoly. As a result, it will be important to focus on efficiency and costs and to make sure that the company provides the services that customers want. UK Power Networks are seen as electricity experts and we need to make sure that they bring their skills and experience to bear to reduce costs, improve efficiency and to deliver the services that customers want and that are needed to help the UK meet its environmental targets.