Kevin Lee has served on the ElectraLink board since its inception 21 years ago. He has seen the company through significant periods of growth and one of the energy market’s most intense periods of transformation. Kevin explores his experience of working in the energy sector and why ElectraLink is an essential part of the energy industry.
What led you to a life in the energy sector?
I joined the energy sector from BT where I had had responsibility for co-ordination with the energy companies and large industrial electricity users in order to protect BT’s network and staff, operating at 50 volts, from the much higher voltages on power networks and equipment. My motive for moving was that the energy industry was starting to invest in the very latest technology for its own telecommunications networks and systems automation, which made it an exciting place to be, whereas at that time BT was still predominantly anchored to legacy systems.
What roles do you hold/have you held outside of ElectraLink and what have they involved?
Unlike other ElectraLink Board members, I no longer have a full time ‘day job’. This gives me the flexibility to devote time to the company as and when needed. I was very fortunate to have had a number of senior industry roles covering most parts of the electricity value chain and its supporting systems. My responsibilities have included formulating network and energy charges; helping to shape arrangements for the wholesale electricity market; running a supply business; supporting corporate actions; directing company and industry IT projects; representing various industry interests to government and regulators; and serving on industry steering groups – frequently simultaneously. Basically, if it involves anything from microamps to megawatts or managerial economics and commercial practices, I’m interested.
What do you think the role of central bodies, like ElectraLink, is in the energy industry?
In a very broad sense, helping industry participants and policymakers to ‘join the dots’. Over several decades, the energy supply chain has been sliced and diced. There are many new entrants and entirely new agencies delivering new capabilities to industry companies and energy users. Competition has brought internal efficiencies to companies and increased innovation. The industry now has many hundreds of component businesses, large and small, and these are the ‘dots’ that need joining to help deliver the industry’s overall objectives and policies.
ElectraLink can enable the efficient delivery of these objectives, mindful of the economic impacts across the supply chain, which will help to provide reliable investment signals and assist with the efficient operation of existing assets, whilst avoiding needless duplication of effort.
At the same time the personalities of individual industry participants and their right to benefit from their innovation and risk-taking needs to be respected. Given the clear consensus that a key driver is data availability and analysis together with the Governance and Codes that wrap around these, this is where central bodies can add value. It is our good fortune that this is precisely where ElectraLink sits in the grander scheme of things.
Why did you choose to join ElectraLink’s board?
Originally because ElectraLink’s initial role was to develop and operate a system, the Data Transfer Service, that was essential to the latter stages of liberalising the retail energy market.
At the time I was running a large-ish electricity supply business, so I had a keen personal interest in knowing how ElectraLink was getting on with the job and, where I could, helping it to succeed. I’ve been around here for a while and I stayed because ElectraLink has grown its customer base to include virtually every kind of energy company and agency. Working here offers a panoramic vantage point to understand what’s going on in the industry and why. The industry is constantly evolving to embrace technical advances and respond to the changing needs of energy users and environmental policy, so life here is never boring.
Last, but by no means least, I have always liked working with the talented and committed people I encounter throughout the company.
What was the most standout moment for ElectraLink during your time as a board member?
I’m not very good at looking backwards. I prefer to be looking forwards to the next challenge. I find the lessons of the past, what worked well or less well, naturally come to mind in that new context.
I also work on the principle that we say what we’ll do and then do what we say, so an outcome that meets even challenging expectations is insufficiently remarkable to become permanently etched in my memory.
But one thing that does stick in my mind is an engagement day earlier this year when I received a lot of unsolicited positive feedback about the company and our people from folk who, had they thought otherwise, would surely have said so with equal emphasis. It made me feel rather proud to be a part of what we do.
Where would you like to see ElectraLink in 5 years?
We have spent a lot of time looking ahead 5 years and beyond, thinking about what a successful energy industry will look like and what ElectraLink can do to help the industry get there. I hope in 5 years’ time we will be able to reflect on a period where we have developed our Energy Market Data Hub and other services have grown substantially as a business, and have done so by adding real value for our direct customers and stakeholders, including energy consumers, distributed energy suppliers, flexibility providers, our business partners and our staff.
When you’re not tackling some tough challenges in the energy industry, what do you do for fun?
I still like to be hands-on by fixing stuff, be it electrical, electronic or mechanical, rather than seeing it taken down to the dump. I also enjoy exploring family history – I haven’t found any ancestors who were rich or famous in my family, but knowing how and where they lived over the centuries gives you a real connection with the events of history and a heightened interest in the future your descendants will inherit. Grandchildren are fun, too.