Chris Wall has a long background i the UK energy industry, most recently a seven year engagement in RWE npower, the country’s #3 largest energy supplier.
As an advisor to Eliq, Chris is helping the Swedish technology company set up their UK operations. We’ve taken some time to ask him some questions.
Q&A with Chris Wall
Q: With the Smart Programme in the UK, the past few years must have been an interesting time to be Npower’s Head of Metering – a position you held until last September. Tell us about your work on the company’s Smart Meter roll-out?
A: I feel privileged to have been part of the Foundation stage of the Smart Meter roll-out for the UK, but also frustrated that so much of the exponential change required to deliver the capability is misunderstood outside of the confines of the industry. I know that in my previous role, >70% of retail processes were impacted by Smart, with Metering rightly seen as the vanguard, but it’s just the tip of a very large iceberg.
Regulatory and industry delays in establishing communication platforms, interoperability standards and the provision of the correct hardware, combined with an inflexible implementation deadline have created a hugely challenging peak roll-out requirement that should, in my opinion, be reconsidered and re-phased to reduce both risk and cost.
Q: You were responsible for rolling out a large number of IHDs for the SMETS1 programme. What do you think about IHDs? Do you believe Ofgem will allow so-called CADs and mobile apps as an alternative?
A: IHDs have a limited perceived benefit to the customer base and we know that many are consigned to the kitchen drawer after the first few days. Whilst there will always be customers who haven’t embraced the internet or smart phones, to whom an IHD will provide core information, I believe customers should be given a choice; those who would prefer an App or CAD should be able to express this preference without having to have a mandatory IHD. I would hope Ofgem will reflect this view in due course.
Q: In the past, you were Managing Director of Homeserve Servowarm, a leading boiler service company. We are starting to see some utilities getting into this market as well. How do you see this playing out in the UK over the next few years?
A: I endorse annual boiler service and safety checks as being a wise precaution (much like the MOT on a car); utilities are well-placed to offer this to their customer base and it can provide a worthwhile customer engagement/retention tool for the utility, as well as a convenient one-stop-shop for their customer.
The other core benefit in having a service and repair package is the peace of mind that, if a boiler breakdown occurs, you will generally receive prioritised service within a contained cost framework, as opposed to having to source an on-demand emergency response, which in the middle of a severe winter may not be readily available and/or cost effective.
Q: How do you think utilities’ offers and customer relationships will develop in the next few years and how will it be affected by the adoption of smart metering?
A: Smart Metering is an enabler. The ability to provide time of use tariffs, reduce the cost and stigma of pre-paid utilities, provide customers with the opportunity to make informed choices about their energy usage, offer a platform for Connected Homes and enable new entrants and new customer service models to develop, are all step-change advances, that will be regarded as a given within the next ten years.
This will give the customer great visibility understanding and choice about their utility provision and should help restore trust in the sector.
Q: Why did you decide to join Eliq as an advisor?
A: I have a great deal of customer service and utilities experience and I want to be able to use this to help develop innovation. I am drawn to the ethos and spirit of Eliq; the customer engagement platform is genuinely engaging and useful.
The company aims of reducing energy waste by helping households understand their consumption and assisting energy suppliers engage with their customers with real-time information & personalised communications, is a clear win-win for all parties. I am really looking forward to working with the team.