Companies across the Utilities industry face similar challenges: ageing infrastructure, increasingly unpredictable supply and demand, and growing impact of climate change. Digital technologies offer a great promise, but a new kind of collaboration is key to solving these challenges: a closer connection between the industry and cities, regulators, scientists, water and energy users and technology companies.
Hack Utilities is an open innovation event for engineers, operations specialists and business developers. It is aimed at creating ingenious and unorthodox solutions for the most pressing issues the Utilities industry is facing.
The immediate purpose of the event is to help you create new projects that you can start implementing the morning after the event. To that end, participants will come up with new project ideas and test them immediately, forge new collaborations and explore new technologies.
Urban centers will continue to face major new infrastructure works as ageing electricity, gas, water, telecommunications and transport networks are modernized. There is tremendous opportunity to coordinate such investment (and the works themselves) better, to improve efficiency, prevent disruption, enable easier works in the future and most importantly, work towards a shared long-term vision.
Grids urgently need to become more flexible to cope with increasingly unpredictable electricity production (due to renewables and decentralised production) and consumption (electric vehicles). Gas (uncertain supply, need for ‘green’ gas)and water (drought, extreme weather, climate change) networks are facing similar pressures. How could we achieve more balance through synergies in electricity, gas, heat and hydrogen (e.g. heat in sewage, solar to hydrogen, hydrogen in gas networks etc.)?
Local energy communities are increasingly recognised as a key potential enabler of the transition to renewables. While such communities are growing in popularity (especially wind power), there is also potential to include solar energy, heat networks, (waste) water and even hydrogen in the system. Technical and regulatory obstacles remain however and most utility players are still struggling to define their role in this new ecosystem.
Long gone are the days when customers were mere tarif payers. Most utilities operate in increasingly competitive, complex and fast-changing markets, where good customer service and product innovation are crucial to survival. The ability to engage and mobilise prosumers and consumers (i.e. manage demand) is also key to managing the energy transition. Fortunately, utilities have tremendous assets (existing customer relationships, huge datasets) they can leverage in this regard, but can they do so?
The internet is showing the way all networks will go, including electricity, gas, heat and water. Smart meters are gradually being rolled out and building the Digital Twin of the energy network is becoming a viable goal. Suddenly, so much more data will be available to better manage the network and create new services. Simultaneously privacy and security concerns are emerging. Water networks still have a long way to go, but perhaps there are ‘hackable’ shortcuts to mapping and digitizing the water network? And how about combining data from electricity, water and gas networks?
While all are commited to reducing their impact on the climate, few plan for the impact of climate change on their operations and the wider energy-water system. Moreover, we should be planning for this at a systemic level. For example, the impact of last summer’s drought cascaded through the waterways (lower water levels), water treatment facilities (more water recycling, higher toxicity waste water), industrial water users (higher salt concentrations hobbles water-based cooling), shipping (less frequent opening of locks on waterways) and so on. Each problem was addressed symptomatically, which often made the system-wide problem worse.
First, it’s a cross-industry event. It will bring together a widely diverse audience, 100-120 people – including city authorities, regulators, lawyers, software developers, university researchers, and specialists in technologies from AI and data science to drones, robotics, and IoT. People from every corner of the Utilities sector (and of Belgium and Europe) who daily face (and solve) similar problems in completely different ways – so there’s a lot to learn.
Second, it’s a very hands-on, interactive, intense event. You’ll spend most of your time working in small groups, interacting with experts (not just listening to them drone on from stage), and thinking hard about both operational and business aspects of your work.
3-hour ideation session will help participating companies to scope out their respective areas of interest and to identify potential synergies in the run-up to the event.
The event is open to participants from
Technology companies providing the following technologies are invited to join too:
Finally, all the other stakeholders are welcome to join:
Hack Utilities is the initiative of Hack Belgium Labs, creators of the Hack Belgium, Europe’s biggest Open Innovation Festival. The event is organized in close collaboration with industry organizations such as Flux50, specialist consultancies and research institutions, and Vlakwa (The Flemish Water Knowledge Center), the independent intermediary in the integrated water chain. Challenges of the event are provided by Utilities companies and city authorities. Technology experts represent top Belgian and international companies.