Written by Florence Coullet, EUW content director

The Utility Series is a series of interviews with CEO’s from small to medium sized utilities in Europe. Hear about the challenges and opportunities they face during this energy transition.

Series 1: Estabanell Energia is a Catalan electricity distributor based in Granollers, a busy business centre near Barcelona, Spain. Their CEO, Santi Martinez, tells us about the energy sector’s failed promise to the consumers and why he is now promoting the business of aggregating energy.

What is your vision of the energy market today?

We are at a crossroad between the past and the future of energy, which makes the current times very complex. Most of today’s consumers are still trying to understand that they can change from one energy supplier to another, as many times as they like, without having to support any cost, when a new figure emerges in the energy sector, the so called aggregator.

The whole electrical/energy sector has a debt with the society, in the sense that it has not taken care of being didactic about its practices, and the result is that the consumers are not aware and not interested in any activity related to energy, specifically energy efficiency or demand response, since they have never been empowered to decide, and they feel that there is no way to influence the cost or the energy mix of their bills.

We must consider the opportunity of driving a change on behalf of both, the consumers and the sector, doing the necessary to get informed customers and transparent companies, avoiding the monopolistic way of making business.

What are the main challenges for your company?

Digitalisation is a must. This is the solution that we embrace for being available to our customers 24/7. We are proud of being a company recognised by its proximity to its customers. Since 1880, we have had offices where to listen to our customers has been a credo, but this is not valid anymore for all customers, and we must replace the concept of proximity by the concept of availability.

Full-time availability, through a variety of channels, is what we think will configure the basics for maintaining a good relationship with our customers.

At the same time, we think that we must migrate from being an energy multi-utility to a solutions provider, maintaining the energy in the centre of our scope, but not as an exclusive service.

Blockchain has emerged as the secure system/technology for guaranteeing the security of some transactions, in a quick and cheap manner. We are considering to make some tests in a very short period of time, in order to investigate about the dependences that can arise when using a new technology which is unknown by our own technicians, in a domain where there is still a very limited number of specialists. We cannot forget that we are a small company with a limited level of resources for innovation, so sometimes we must wait for others to make the initial errors that could be too expensive for us. Anyway, we are in the way of performing some basic transactions with smart contracts registered in blockchain.

We already have some experience in digitising the electrical network, and developing power electronic devices that can audit the energy transactions within a microgrid that can work in-grid or in island mode, depending on the external conditions. This means that some of our engineers will be able to evolve towards the blockchain technology.

In today’s complex market, what is your main strategy to navigate the energy transition?

Certainly, wait and see is not our attitude, but we must be cautious when innovating.

We think that the role of the aggregator, which will be the manager of the flexibility of the system, is key for making possible the new markets, which will include the traditional centralised generation and, at the same time, the distributed renewable one. This means that we are exploring such an activity with companies beyond the borders of our country, where the aggregator is not yet regulated by law.

Also, for being in the front line when the flexibility race will start, our company is working in the domain of the EV charging, and the batteries for households, which will be the distributed tools for the domestic users aiming at participating in the energy market.

Santi Martinez is no stranger to EUW (check his interview during EUW 2016 in Barcelona here) and I am sure he will join the discussions in Vienna!