Since beginning his career as an electrical engineer 35 years ago, Nino Ficca has climbed the corporate ladder. In his role as managing director of AusNet Services and more recently, chair of Energy Networks Australia, Nino’s number one focus is his customers.
Nino Ficca lives and breathes energy. And his passion for the industry is clear when he speaks of the transformation currently occurring in the sector.
“It is a very exciting time. There are great opportunities as we transition to make a significant difference to customers’ lives as they create and use energy in a potentially different ways,” Nino says.
Despite the industry facing significant challenges, with debate surrounding security of the energy system as well as renewable energy, Nino’s priority is plain and simple – the customer.
The family sitting around the dinner table, the couple watching television on the couch, the student studying at her desk, the child reading a book in bed, the local café owner, the factory manager – these are the people, according to Nino, that need to be at the forefront of the energy industry’s future.
“The energy industry, I like to think of it as fundamental to the economy and society of Australia,” he says.
“We need to have a highly reliable and highly affordable energy system for our residential customers, as well as our industrial and commercial customers. It is very important and underpins our everyday lives.
“We are dealing with disruption and change in the industry, but in my view we’re not unique – every industry is going through transformation and going through disruptive change. We need to be able to deal with that in a very systematic way that leaves customers confident with how they will be positioned into the future.”
Nino says the key to success in this environment is generating trust and respect with customers and partners.
“If customers can’t trust the industry to have their interests at heart, then we will see customers of all types disengage from the market. If we can improve trust with customers, we can help them make well-informed and economic decisions that mean the whole economy is better off,” Nino says.
“And those customer decisions are vital to the transition the sector must go through. Policy also plays a very significant role in how that transition will work, efficiency is very important, affordability, and certainly security is extremely important.
“We need to deal with all those elements to make sure customers end up with the right mix.
“If we forget about security or the engineering, that will not serve customers well. If we forget about affordability, that will not serve customers well.”
In his role on the ENA board, Nino was involved in the development of the Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap with the CSIRO, which will ensure the transition is an economic one for customers.
The Roadmap Key Concepts Report was publicly released after an exhaustive and collaborative two-year process, which deliberately engaged stakeholders across the industry and outside. It identifies integrated measures, which can achieve a positive energy future for Australian energy customers, enabling choice, lower emissions, lower costs, high security and reliability.
“It really outlines a plan for our energy future, knowing that customers are going to play an ever-increasing role in determining their own energy future,” Nino says.
“We have got lots of technology changes underway and there is potential for incentives through tariff structures; how we deploy our smarter grids to better respond to customers; the way we optimise markets and clearly; the way security plays into the devolvement of new infrastructure, particularly in the distributed nature where in the future people have a lot of solar and storage, and electric vehicles; and a lot of data to manage all that by.
“It is an evolving sector and the Roadmap reflects how this will ideally come together in the next 10 years.”
Nino says the Roadmap offers guidance to all the participants in the sector – from policy makers and industry participants, through to customers.
“So it’s not prescriptive, but it does lay out a direction that could take place over the coming years to the benefit of customers.
“It needs to be dynamic, so as things evolve and change – whether it be policy, technology or security, the industry can respond”
Nino says the Finkel Review is a great opportunity to address all of those issues combined.
“It is a great opportunity to stand back and reflect on the bigger picture and to identify the priorities for reform, or what will be most important in the transition over the coming years,” he says.
“It is seeking input from the energy sector and consumer groups, which I’m very hopeful, will lead to a very significant piece of work headed up by our Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.”
A transition to a different type of energy environment is inevitable Nino says, but the important part is how the nation transitions with certainty and predictability.
“In an ideal world, we’d have a bipartisan approach to energy policy to ensure efficient investment, which will ultimately lead to better outcomes for customers.
“I think the industry is very motivated to grasp the opportunities presented by these changes.
“We are very conscious of the impact and the once-in-a-generation opportunity to achieve fundamental reform to ensure long-term energy security and associated benefits for customers and the wider community.”
With new and innovative ways to generate and store power being developed, Nino says the industry should be embracing the technologies, as long as they serve the right purpose.
“The technology itself is not so much where the excitement lays from an industry point of view, it’s really what it enables customers to achieve,” he says.
“Whether that be in flexibility, affordability or security – there is a range of options that customers can potentially tap into today they historically weren’t available.
“There will be diversity of the way that energy can be provided to customers in the future that will be far more easily managed from the customer’s perspective and probably the greatest emphasis I’d make is that it is not just about the technology but really listening to the customer, gaining their trust, delivering benefits to them and allowing them to drive their outcomes and future.”