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Last month representatives from the North of England’s gas distributor, Northern Gas Networks (NGN) took part in the industry’s first customer innovation summit, facilitated by the Energy Innovation Centre (EIC).

The event, which took place in London, brought together experts from the gas and electricity distribution companies along with delegates from across the wider energy sector to explore how the industry might work together to deliver better, fairer, more accurate and responsive proactive customer service.

Dermot Nolan, Ofgem chief executive, opened the summit. He said: “Through RIIO we have put in place customer incentives to encourage the energy networks to serve consumers better, and we’re delighted to see evidence that these measures are working.

“We have been promoting the use of innovation to improve customer experience and we’re really keen to see the industry build on these successes as it adapts to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.”

Addressing the current and future needs of energy consumers has become central to the mandate of all UK gas distribution networks (GDNs) and distribution network operators (DNOs). Each network business has already embarked on a profound transformation to become more customer focused and responsive to emerging customer needs such as distributed generation, alternative energy sources and community energy initiatives.

Denise Massey, managing director, EIC said: “Unlike in other sectors, there’s a remarkable consistency in the challenges faced across all network businesses, and as we strive to achieve the financial incentives that are on offer through regulation, this has also resulted in a culture of competition.

“Competition has brought us so far but if we want to go further, it is not always in the public’s interest. Duplication of effort and resources may get passed on to the consumer in their bills, and has led us to the conclusion that we have much more to gain through collaboration, than through competition.

“This collaborative mindset is the driving force behind the three innovation summits that the EIC is hosting this financial year. Each of these events will create an opportunity to explore what industry collaboration in specific business areas might look like and enable us to understand how we might work together to deliver the transformation that will  not only address today’s needs, but the needs of the future too.”

Mark Horsley, CEO, Northern Gas Networks and Chairman of the Energy Innovation Centre, said: “The day was all about rolling up our sleeves and trying to create some new solutions for our respective industries by focusing in on the ambition of what we can achieve together.

“Innovation creates change and change always carries risk, however if, collectively, we can get this right then I really believe that the benefits to our customers will be game-changing.”