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Ofgem beefs up data team as regulator plays digital catch up

Ofgem data science team will grow to 50 by end of 2022

The Ofgem data science team will grow to 50 by the end of this year to improve the energy watchdog's own oversight and management of ongoing energy market digitalisation.

The move comes as the sector continues to digest the Energy Digitalisation Taskforce’s recommendations, which it published in January. Among these were recommendations to develop a “digital spine”, improve digital governance – and “embed a digitalisation culture” in the energy sector.

Efforts to improve the UK energy system’s efficiency and flexibility – of which digitalisation is a key part – have of course become significantly more critical in recent months.

But the transition from the traditional pattern of generation and consumption to greater reliance on renewables and distributed generation has not been easy.

At an event at the Houses of Parliament highlighting the taskforce’s work this week, Doug Cook, Deputy Director for Digitalisation and Decentralisation at Ofgem, acknowledged frankly that the regulator in the past “perhaps didn’t take [digitalisation] as seriously as it should”.

“I'm delighted that now we do" he hastened to add.

"We've recognised the scale of change. I've got a direct mandate from our board cascaded through our CEO, Jonathan [Brearley], to ‘get serious’ about digitalisation and decentralisation,” said Cook.

“We have recognised that we need to recruit the skills and experiences to build this digital culture... to really bring digitalisation to life. As a regulator we are exposed to significant and changing risks.

"We need to get better at managing [them],” he added.

See also: Digitalising the UK’s energy system: 5 key takeaways

Ofgem data science efforts. A visualisation of household energy usage in London. Image courtesy UCL.
A visualisation of household energy usage in London. Image courtesy UCL.

Cook said Ofgem had “committed internally” by recruiting a team of around 30 data scientists focused on digitalisation, which he expects to grow to “about 50-odd” by the end of 2022.

“[Ofgem] recognised that our skills and capabilities haven’t kept up with the speed of change in industry,” Cook told The Stack, adding the regulator needed to upskill: “I think of us as a referee on a football pitch. And like referees, you need to keep training and developing to keep up with the game.”

The Energy Digitalisation Taskforce’s report earlier said Ofgem “should be commended” for appointing its first ever Chief Data Officer, Helen Crooks, who joined the regulator in December 2020.

The report further suggested the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) should also consider recruiting its own data chief.

“The government and regulator should lead by example, by integrating the recommendation [to embed a digitalisation culture] into industry guidance, ensuring energy leaders have digital and data experience and introducing dedicated digital and data leadership roles within their organisations,” said the taskforce report.

Cook, who joined Ofgem as head of strategy in June 2021 before moving to his current role in March 2022, said the move to embrace digitalisation in the regulator was “an ongoing process”.

“I think like anything you need to change the culture and the mindset, the practical working realities, while you recruit the people, otherwise, you end up building an exogenous IT function that doesn't actually integrate well with the business and isn't properly adding value,” he told The Stack.

He also made a heartfelt plea for data-minded people with an interest in reforming and decarbonising the UK’s energy sector to consider joining the Ofgem data science team.

“I believe, I happen to know, that a lot of people in our space are motivated by the opportunity to actually make a difference. If you're going to go work on these things somewhere, please come and work on it somewhere where you are actually moving the dial.”

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