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Energy sector ripe for Uber-like transformation

27th May 2019

The energy sector has been issued a warning that it is ripe to be “Uberised” with digital technologies set to shake-up the industry.

QUT researcher Associate Professor Robert Perrons, who served in senior roles in the energy industry before coming to QUT, used his keynote address at the recent United Nations Resource Management Week event in Geneva, Switzerland, to forecast a coming wave of change for the energy sector.

Since delivering the keynote, Professor Robert Perrons has joined the UN’s Expert Group in Resources and Energy.

Professor Perrons said there had long been evidence of how the energy industry — including both newer green energy technologies and more traditional energy sources like oil and  gas — was “profoundly different” to other sectors in its very slow pace for adapting to technological change.

That sluggishness in adapting to change was one of the reasons it was likely to undergo a similar transformation to that felt by the transport industry, the accommodation industry, and the retail industry by digital disruptors Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon.

“Why is it that the energy sector is so frustratingly slow to change?  Because we need for that not to be the case.  We need it to change,” Professor Perrons said.

“We're choking the planet. We can't stay on the energy path that we're on.  We have to be turning the corner.

“And so there's a lot of frustration and a lot of research going on out there about why this is so slow to change.”

Robert Perrons
Professor Robert Perrons

In the keynote presentation to the UN, Professor Perrons highlighted that Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon had revolutionised their respective industries without making massive capital investments as big as those made by other members of their value network.

Professor Perrons said the energy sector had developed a false sense of security about its immunity to disruption because of the high cost of infrastructure required to enter the field.

“And what I drew their attention to is the fact that the profitability in the marketplace is no longer as intimately connected to physical assets as it used to be,” Professor Perrons said.

“In this new digital world that we're living in, you can have someone run in and steal your lunch.

“They're still leaving you with the physical assets, but they figured out a way to make money around you.

“And in a way that leaves you sitting there holding assets that are worth much, much less.”

While the energy sector had been slow to innovate, Professor Perrons said the consumers at the other end of the energy chain were welcoming innovation by becoming “pro-sumers” who both produce and consume energy, and who carefully managed their energy usage.

“Digital facilitation opened up the transparency of the network,” Professor Perrons said.

“John and Jane Q Public don't have to just be on the receiving end of a bill every three months.   They're now able to actively participate in this process because they’ve got solar panels on their house.”

Media contact:

Rod Chester, QUT Media, 07 3138 9449, rod.chester@qut.edu.au

After hours: Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901, media@qut.edu.au

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