Article: 5 questions with Cara Graham, EY

Energy Week interview: Cara Graham, Partner, Power & Utilities, EY Australia

What keeps you up at night when you think about the transition in Australia?

Whether energy industry participants can collaborate to develop the solutions needed to successfully navigate the energy transition. Australia’s energy industry is vertically dis-aggregated, highly competitive in parts and highly regulated in others, all of which have led to an environment where collaboration is not the norm. If we don’t break down barriers and create open engagement amongst participants, it’s likely that fragmented solutions will emerge, adding unnecessary costs to the transition.

What exciting developments are inspiring you at the moment?

The role of DER in the energy transition. There has been a lot of focus on the big end of town – utility-scaled renewables and REZs – but DER may yet be the hero of the energy transition. As someone who has worked in the energy industry for over 20 years, it’s amazing to see ‘customer centricity’ move from being a platitude in utility annual reports to truly describing the state of our energy system.

How is EY’s approach different to other organisations in the energy sector?

EY has invested heavily in our energy expertise.  Across the globe, we have developed teams and service offerings based on the needs of our clients, whether they are incumbent utilities, new entrants, regulators or large energy users. For example, we have specialist teams in energy market modelling, energy strategy, policy and regulation, delivering digital/technology programs, transaction support, and tax and legal services. Our global connectivity means we can tap into expertise, case studies and learnings from all over the world and also use this network to connect our clients.

We hear a lot of concern that the transition is not moving fast enough. What do you see as potential solutions for unblocking some of the current gridlock?

Whilst I have no doubt it’s well-intentioned, the role of stakeholder consultation is adding significant time to the energy transition. Whether it’s consultation on large infrastructure projects, consultation on energy rule changes, or consultation to inform regulatory proposals, an immense amount of time and money is being devoted to canvassing stakeholders’ opinions. Some stakeholder groups are likely experiencing ‘consultation fatigue’ and are simply not resourced to participate in the myriad of consultations for which they are being asked to express an opinion. Streamlining, or at least better coordinating, stakeholder consultation would speed things up.

Are there any ‘hidden’ or less discussed issues that the energy sector needs to be more aware of?

I think we need to have an authentic conversation about how we engage with customers on the energy transition. As an industry, we have so far taken the approach that more tools and access to more information is what customers need to make informed choices. But customer research consistently finds that customers have low energy literacy, low trust and confidence, and many are still paying more than they should be despite new tools and information. Given the important role that customer-owned DER will play in the energy transition, we need to think hard about how we engage customers and earn their trust so they sign up to new products and services (especially as the complexity of new products such as VPPs increases making customer education more challenging).

You can catch Cara speaking in the 'Re-engineering the Grid' stream of Australian Energy Week 2024 (13 June).

To access the detailed conference program, download the brochure here.

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