The Trilemma within the Power Distribution Industry with David Hawkins

We caught up with David Hawkins, our new CIRED Director, who spoke to us about the Trilemma within power distribution and what he thinks the future holds for the industry.


We are pleased to introduce David Hawkins who has recently joined the CIRED Directing Committee. CIRED is operated by two organisations (AIM and the IET) who share a mutual interest in the development of distribution electric networks. David will work alongside Giles Grant (IET’s Director of Knowledge Services and Solutions) to represent the IET on the board. With 45 years’ experience in the industry, David will be an extremely valuable addition to the team and we look forward to what David will bring to CIRED.

We caught up with David to learn more about his experience and what he thinks the future holds for the electricity distribution industry:

Tell us about your background

I joined the industry as a student apprentice at Southern Electricity Board in 1975. Since graduating, I’ve enjoyed engineering roles at SEB, Eastern Electricity, the electricity regulator (Offer/Ofgem), General Electric, PB Power, and recently as a consultant with a former GE colleague, Martin Ansell.

While the electricity industry has a history of about 140 years, my family can claim to have been active since around 1910 through my grandfather (Herbert Hawkins MIEE), and more recently my cousin (Rod Hawkins MIEE) and my daughter Eve (SMIET). So, you could say, electricity definitely runs in my blood!

What experience do you have with CIRED?

I have supported the GB organising committee as one of CIRED’s volunteers for around 20 years. As a volunteer, I’ve reviewed some of the papers that have been submitted for inclusion in the conference. I’ve also attended CIRED as a member of GE’s exhibitor team and have presented my own papers and posters and, supported a tutorial session.

What are your thoughts on what the future holds for the electricity distribution industry?

It’s a great challenge!

The energy trilemma may be summarised as the future need to deliver energy that is cheap, clean and continuous. Some suggest that you can only ever achieve two out of those three and getting to deliver all three is the challenge that our industry continues to work towards.

Do you think becoming carbon neutral by 2050 is enough? Is enough being done to reach this target?

There does appear to be a focus on net zero in government while our networks operate at 50Hz. It’s likely that our industry will have the opportunity/challenge to demonstrate how to operate a real-time zero carbon energy system. Geographically, it helps to have mountains capable of storing energy using large quantities of water (e.g. The Alps, Rocky Mountains) but it’s encouraging that other energy storage methods are in development and demonstration phases.

Beyond this, there is the possibility that the energy delivered by our gas network will need to be transferred to the electricity network which is likely to result in far higher network loads. Alternatively, perhaps each home will become net zero but balance their demand via the energy networks with possibly far lower or more variable network loads.

What do you think will be the main focus for companies in the power distribution field over the next few years?

The electricity network is one of the most important elements in any country. The industry has continued to respond to societal needs for improving quality of supply while at the same time reducing its costs. Recent challenges include the connection of a vast number of small-scale generation projects to a network that was designed and constructed to deliver energy from a small number of bulk supply points on a transmission network.

I expect that the industry will continue to deliver energy in the future with a focus on the trilemma, mentioned above. This is despite the dichotomy of using assets many of which have operational lifetimes of 60 years while politicians may change their minds about energy strategy far more quickly and often. To excuse that possibly mundane statement, I recall Neils Bohr’s comment that “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future!” and will stop there.

To hear more views and opinions from industry experts on the future of electricity distribution, and to get the latest updates and developments from key companies in the field, check out the CIRED Technical Series for more.

CIRED Technical Series >

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