As a partner specialising in emerging energy and greentech markets at international law firm Pinsent Masons, Peter Feehan has a bird’s eye view of the changes that are sweeping the energy sector.
He and his colleagues are helping power and utility companies adapt to the blurring of lines between the traditional energy arena and an increasing number of so-called disruptors.
“We are in interesting times,” Feehan tells me. “The energy sector has never been more exciting. We are seeing a very changing landscape across all the sectors that form the energy environment.
“There is a real shift in terms of dynamics. In conventional power, it’s moved from efficiency of kit to looking at how quickly machinery can be started.”
He says this need for speed has come about “as a result of the way that we are utilizing power. People are more immediate now in their power demands. It’s not about baseload now – it’s about how companies can respond to price signals.”
He says there is no “predefined shape around the usage of power” – it’s more localized.
“A lot of the power now is at a more distributed and localized level. There’s a changing landscape in how we are using power and there’s a changing landscape around where that power is generated. And there’s changing demand profiles as well. So somehow all generators, infrastructure providers and energy suppliers have got to respond to that.”
He says that how companies plan a strategy for that response depends on the size of that company.
“Each of those market segments that make up the energy sector are trying to respond in the best way that they can. What we are finding is that the pace of that change is very rapid, and the ability to respond to those market changes is difficult at times, given the size of some companies that need to maintain shareholder value and investor confidence.
“Given that some of the larger players in the power market can’t move as quickly as some of the disruptors, we are seeing a convergence in the marketplace between the energy sector and the tech sectors.”
He says it would “be imprudent from an investor profile for big energy companies to go head-first into these new markets”, so instead they are looking at joint ventures, partnerships and even acquisitions where appropriate to respond and keep ahead of the market change.
He explains that what established energy actors are trying to do is “work out where they best fit in the energy landscape. What is their play? Is it around agility in retail and commercial supply? Is it around operation of assets? Or is it asset ownership?
“In the European marketplace it is very much a sense of ‘where best do we see the future of our business’? Tech acquisition or partnership is a part of that. Utility players are considering how they best resize and reshape their business to respond to market pressure and forces.”
He says the energy sector is essentially asking itself one key question: “Is the way we have done things for the last 100 years a market that is future-ready for the next 100 years? And do we need to perfect that marketplace in order to respond to these greater challenges?
“The key to all of this is actually understanding more how we use energy – and that comes from the data. Only once we better understand how we use energy can we deploy assets at the distributed level, as well as at the transmission level, far more effectively, both in the marketplace and indeed from an energy solutions position. The use of data has increased in tandem with the need for more technical solutions and the need for an ever-smarter grid.”
Peter Feehan is speaking at Electrify Europe in Vienna in June, alongside several other energy lawyers from Pinsent Masons. For more details and to register, click here
This article is an extract from a longer exclusive interview that will appear in PEi magazine later this month. Subscribe now to be sure of receiving your issue.