Are you prepared for Digital Dragons entering the utilities?


juni 22, 2023


Trends & Insights


Joyce De Smit, Mar Jorba, Ian Campbell


Cloud ServicesGrid operatorsHeatSuppliersWater

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What are digital dragons?  

You may not have heard, but the digital dragons are rising. What are they? And will they have an impact on the energy and utilities sector?  

When we surfed the internet for extra information, we came across various definitions and sections such as the one below from Gartner:  

“Digital dragons are companies that are embracing digital disruption and using it to enter, take over and dominate markets they often didn’t even play in before.” 

Source: Gartner 

Enter the digital dragons?  

In recent years, significant changes have occurred in the utilities market, particularly regarding the market participants involved. Upon closer examination, it becomes clear that numerous suppliers have ceased operations since 2016, with a further 31 experiencing such issues since the start of 2021. 

These challenges can be attributed to the sharp increase in wholesale gas prices. Among the affected companies, Bulb Energy, which had a customer base of 1.7 million, stands out as the most significant case. Eventually, Octopus Energy (Kraken’s parent company) assumed control of Bulb Energy and its customers. 

Furthermore, there is likely to be an upcoming challenge as industry experts and analysts suggest a significant likelihood of prominent players like Alibaba, Amazon, Tencent and Alphabet (Google) venturing into the energy market. 

Source: Gartner, How to Deal With Digital Dragons When They Emerge in the Utility Sector. 

Some stats 

The above statement caught our eye, and we were therefore curious to know what esteemed experts from the energy and utilities community think about this view. In the survey we conducted to get a better view of the future of energy in the UK, we found that 80% of the experts surveyed think there will be new entrants providing a competitive threat. 

And when we zoomed in on this, we were surprised to find that 35% of them are convinced it will be tech companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Alphabet (Google). 

Most of us expect these digital dragons to enter the market eventually! But the question is, what changes are they going to bring to the table and how can existing energy and utility companies deal with this?  

What changes will the digital dragons bring to the current Energy and Utilities market?

First of all, we are convinced that when they enter the market, it is going to bring a lot of benefits to the end consumer and a lot of challenges for the existing suppliers.

Customer centric experiences

What can they bring to the table?

Digital dragons like Alibaba, Amazon, Tencent and Alphabet (Google) could leverage their existing infrastructure and customer relationships to enter the retail energy market. When they do so, they might offer:

  • competitive pricing,
  • innovative energy plans,
  • and customer-centric experiences through their platforms.

These are matters that suppliers should keep in the back of their minds and already explore options to quickly anticipate for when these dragons announce their market entry.  

5 tips for preparing for the new competitors 

  • Monitor the Market: Keep a close eye on the market to stay informed about any potential entry or advancements by digital dragons. Stay updated on their offerings, strategies, and customer feedback to understand the competitive landscape. Gartner refers to this as the Survivalist scenario, where you try to tame the Dragon.

  • Enhance Customer Experience: Focus on improving the customer experience by providing personalized services, transparent billing, and responsive customer support. Implement user-friendly online platforms and mobile applications to make it convenient for customers to manage their energy usage and interact with the supplier. Having a solid digital customer engagement strategy is key such as a first-in-class customer portal and an intuitive customer mobile app.   

  • Embrace Technology: Leverage technology to streamline operations, optimise processes, and deliver innovative energy plans. Explore digital solutions like smart meters, home automation, and energy management systems to offer value-added services and help customers optimise their energy consumption.

  • Establish Partnerships: Consider forming strategic partnerships with technology companies or startups that specialize in energy-related innovations. Collaborating with these entities can enable suppliers to access modern technologies, gain market insights, and enhance their competitive position. Gartner maps this approach in the pioneer scenario, where you try to fly the dragon.

  • Differentiate Through Sustainability: Emphasise sustainability and renewable energy options to differentiate from digital dragons. Promote green energy solutions, carbon neutrality, and environmental initiatives to attract environmentally conscious customers who value sustainable practices.

Smart energy solutions

What can they bring to the table?

As most of these digital dragons already offer smart home solutions, they can easily include offerings for energy solutions, such as smart thermostats, energy monitoring devices, and home automation systems.

By integrating their platforms with utility services, they could enable customers to better manage their energy consumption and optimize efficiency.

5 more tips to think about 

  • Explore Partnerships: Seek collaborations with digital dragons and other technology providers to integrate their smart home solutions with utility services. By partnering with these companies, energy suppliers can leverage their expertise and access their customer base to offer enhanced energy management solutions.

  • Develop APIs and Integrations: Create application programming interfaces (APIs) and integration capabilities that allow seamless communication between energy suppliers’ platforms and the smart home solutions provided by digital dragons. This integration enables customers to have a unified experience and manage their energy consumption more effectively.

  • Offer Value-Added Services: Utilise the data collected from smart home devices to provide value-added services to customers. For example, energy suppliers can offer personalised energy usage recommendations, real-time energy consumption tracking, or automated energy-saving suggestions based on smart home data.

  • Provide Energy Efficiency Insights: Leverage the data collected from energy monitoring devices to provide customers with detailed insights into their energy consumption patterns. These insights can help customers identify areas where energy efficiency improvements can be made, leading to cost savings, and reduced environmental impact.

  • Collaborate on Demand Response Programs: Work with digital dragons to implement demand response programs that utilise smart home devices. These programs allow energy suppliers to manage and optimize energy demand during peak periods by incentivising customers to adjust their energy usage patterns. Such collaborations can enhance grid stability and reduce the need for additional power generation capacity.

An excellent illustration of this phenomenon can be observed in the collaboration between British Gas and Hive, in conjunction with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. This alliance has generated a pervasive impact on energy efficiency by leveraging voice commands, the Internet of Things, and mobile applications, leading to the expansion of interconnected services. This is one of the recommendations Gartner describes in the ‘fly the dragon strategy.’

Source: Gartner, How to Deal with Digital Dragons When They Emerge in the Utility Sector.

Data driven energy storage solutions

What can they bring to the table?

Companies like Alibaba, Amazon, Tencent and Alphabet (Google) have expertise in data analytics and technology. They could explore opportunities in energy storage solutions, such as batteries, and develop advanced grid technologies for grid optimisation, demand response, and energy balancing. Their technological capabilities could enhance grid reliability, stability, and efficiency.

Transparency through marketplaces

What can they bring to the table?

We believe that they will delay their entry into the energy market, because of the current unattractiveness of the market. The implementation of the Ofgem price cap over the past year or so has compelled suppliers to sell energy at prices lower than their wholesale gas and electricity costs. This has resulted in most customers being charged the same rate, known as the price cap rate. However, wholesale prices are starting to decline, and as suppliers gain the ability to charge rates below the price cap, we can expect a resurgence in customer switching. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that this will attract many new entrants in the very near future.

When energy prices stabilize back and the dust has settled in the energy market, we will undoubtedly see the entry of new competitors into the market. So be prepared and have a strategy in place for when this happens.

We are convinced that when they do enter the market, this will bring about a lot of changes, which will only benefit the end-consumer.

Partnering with Microsoft

Ferranti’s strategic partnership with Microsoft for over 25 years provides the right combination to ‘fly with the dragon’. Microsoft’s digital presence, innovative technologies, and strong market influence together with the Ferranti deep utility market knowledge and recognition is the key to success.

Microsoft’s business success is based on the success of their customers and partners, and it is committed to supporting the highly diverse partner ecosystem to help utility customer with their digital ambitions. This strategic choice of aligning Microsoft’s innovation scenarios and solutions to partners’ strengths such as the MECOMS 365 platform, in enabling and scaling industry innovation. 

To learn more on how this align strategy translates into a modern cloud platform for the utility companies of tomorrow, check out this website where all the cloud solutions are highlighted. 

Mar Jorba - Product Manager - Ferranti

Mar Jorba

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