15 minutes with: Angela Rotheram

Our experts are at the forefront of bringing ingenuity to life for our clients. They accelerate new growth ideas from concept, through design and development to commercial success. And they revitalise organisations with the leadership, culture, systems and processes to make innovation a reality.

In this series, you’ll meet some of the brilliant minds creating change every day.

Angela Rotheram helps clients to navigate the transition to a net zero future, including through enhancing innovation culture.

Angela Rotheram is an energy and utilities expert with a focus on the future. Her background in engineering, teamed with a passion for supporting innovation in the energy sector, underpin her sector-shaping work – including a recent project on innovation culture commissioned by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in collaboration with Ofgem and participating energy networks.

What is your background and how did you come to PA?

My background is in electrical and electronic engineering. I was involved in the the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) Power Academy at university, so I’ve always focused on the power industry. After graduating, I joined an engineering consultancy, and then a few years later I joined PA to focus on the future of electricity networks.

I’m based in PA’s Manchester office in the UK. As a smaller office, everyone has different sector and capability specialisms, and there’s a lot of sharing and cross-fertilisation.

At PA, everyone really wants to make a positive difference. There’s a genuine passion about the roles people do and what they can achieve working together with clients.

How would you explain what you do to someone who had never heard of your role before?

I work in the energy and utilities team, supporting a range of clients to address their current and future challenges, particularly in the context of supporting net zero. I generally focus on projects related to network innovation and the transition to a smart, flexible energy system, working with energy networks, government and regulators, and investors. Our team have a wide range of expertise across the energy sector, including nuclear, hydrogen, and offshore wind, and we also support clients in the water sector.

I get involved in all types of projects, but they tend to have a strong analytical or modelling aspect. For example, leading detailed analysis of network smart meter benefits or assessing the impact of cyber security risks associated with smart energy devices in the home, such as electric vehicle chargers. The projects I work on also often involve engaging with multiple stakeholders across industry. For example, working closely with multiple organisations and getting views from across industry has been a fundamental part of a really interesting cross-industry project exploring network innovation culture.

Four smiling professionals walking together

What’s different about working with PA?

I’ve worked for PA for over eight years now, and what I love most is the range of interesting projects and how we bring teams with different skills and knowledge together to solve client challenges. Even just on the projects I’ve worked on I have collaborated with experts in a range of subjects including cyber security, regulatory economics, communications technology, and driving cultural change in organisations. And this is just a small subset of the range of expertise across PA.

Working for a consultancy with expertise spanning such a diverse range of capabilities and subject areas allows me to get involved in a wide variety of complex challenges, which I really enjoy. I also really like how collaborative and friendly people at PA are. I can reach out to someone I’ve never met and ask a question about something they specialise in, and I’ve always found that colleagues go out of their way to be helpful. Also, I don’t think I could answer a question on what’s different about PA without mentioning the Global Innovation and Technology Centre (GITC), our in-house design, engineering and science labs in Cambridge.

How has your work changed in recent years?

My work has changed quite a lot. The work I do in general is very variable, and in recent years I’ve also taken on more roles leading project teams.

It’s also interesting to see the nature of work change as concepts evolve. For example, from horizon scanning, to feasibility studies, to strategy support. One interesting evolving area is the role that domestic customers could play in providing flexibility to the energy grid. With the right offerings in place, that could see us shifting our usage in response to market signals or through services which optimise energy within the home. Consumers may even look to adopt battery storage alongside domestic generation. Some people have already done that – including my Dad – but it’s still very much at the early adopter stage, with planned and future market changes necessary to unlock this potential.

There have been significant changes already in the industry over the last 10 to 15 years. And with the 2050 net zero target, I’m confident it will remain an exciting place to work for the rest of my career.

What’s the role of ingenuity in the work that you do?

For me, ingenuity is about solving problems in creative ways and being resourceful. So, for example, that might mean combining various indirect sources of data with best judgement to develop assumptions where there is limited data, or developing modelling approaches that balance accuracy with the feasibility of obtaining data. Working with colleagues who have different skills and experience also enables challenges to be solved in different ways, and I see that as part of the role of ingenuity. In my most recent project on innovation culture within the energy networks sector, the difference came about through the combination of my energy networks knowledge and experience with that of colleagues who are experts in cultural change and innovation.

What’s really exciting you at the moment within your work?

Network innovation is a topic that throughout my career has remained close to my heart. I attended the very first Energy Networks Association (ENA) network innovation conference shortly after graduating, and I’ve attended almost every conference since. I’ve witnessed and supported increased activity and evolution in the type, complexity, and scale of innovation, and I’ve seen the impact culture has in driving further success. This is why I was particularly excited to get the chance to explore this further with energy networks in my most recent project.

In general, it’s a really great time to be in the industry because there’s a significant amount of change taking place and challenges to be solved.

The energy system has a vital role in helping to meet net zero, both through reducing emissions in the power sector, but also in helping to reduce emissions in other sectors like transport and heat. In all decarbonisation scenarios, there are significant changes required in how energy is consumed and supplied.”

There is a need to transition to a smart, flexible energy system, using innovative technologies and services to efficiently balance supply and demand. This ultimately reduces the amount of infrastructure which would otherwise need to be built to meet peak demand, and includes solutions like increased network automation and control, energy storage solutions, and flexibility in generation and demand.

Which of your projects are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of the recent project I led with UKRI, Ofgem, and the majority of UK electricity and gas networks exploring the role of innovation culture in supporting the transition to net zero. The project explores the building blocks of an exemplar innovation culture, considering best practice and opportunities both within organisations and across the industry. I really enjoyed working closely with the energy networks and Ofgem on this, as well as obtaining the views of a wide range of stakeholders from across the industry, and drawing on insight from international utilities and other sectors.

A key question raised by both networks and external stakeholders was what a ‘10 out of 10’ innovation culture looks like in the context of the networks sector, where delivering a safe, reliable service is vital. While feasible to cultivate a strong innovation culture alongside a focus on operational excellence, it is not realistic to employ the same innovation culture as in frequently referenced companies like Tesla and Apple, and there are constraints. 

The exemplar developed specifically considers these, and I think this is where the combination of my experience of energy networks, with that of colleagues who specialise in innovation and culture, brings real value. This understanding of the networks environment also allowed the specific impact of current regulation on innovation culture to be explored. It’s great to hear that there have been some changes in proposals for future regulation because of this project, and also how the work is resonating with other regulated sectors, like nuclear and water.

I’m proud of the report we published as part of this work, which challenges the mindsets that could limit activity around enhancing innovation culture. It has had positive reception from both within and outside the sector, and I hope that alongside the full report they continue to be a useful resource to refer to, including for ideas and inspiration.

Defining exemplar innovation culture and understanding areas of opportunity is just the first step. Shaping culture is a long-term initiative requiring conscious and consistent efforts, and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.”

Following networks’ self-assessment against the exemplar, we have been helping multiple companies develop their initial action plans. I’m looking forward to seeing how activity in this area evolves, including initiatives to drive cultural change across the industry. It has been great to see how networks who hadn’t been involved in the project have since been engaging with the work.

What are your key goals for the future?

For me, it’s about balancing that next step as my son starts school in September. Since I returned from maternity leave, I’ve worked three days a week and have managed to make that work really well and still work on exciting projects. My goal is to continue to develop in my career while spending quality time with my son.

From a personal development point of view, I’d like to lead more project teams and help develop junior colleagues. I’ve been a mentor for over a year and I really like it – it helps to take a step back and think, have we tried this? Could we do that? Who could help? The people I mentor find it useful to reflect on these sorts of questions to get around some of the challenges they’re having.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

Say yes to opportunities that come your way, particularly training and qualifications, and actively participate in industry organisations. For example, I’ve been involved in various groups over the years, including the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) local network, and the CIGRE next generation network (NGN). New opportunities often arise from these interactions – for example, I attended the Paris session as part of the CIGRE NGN and ended up becoming the UK member for a CIGRE international working group on energy storage. Due to involvement in various industry activities, I was asked to be the judge for the power and energy category of the IET innovation award. 

You never know where opportunities may take you. Saying yes to opportunities and actively participating in industry activities is important as your career progresses, but there’s also a need to be more selective about how you spend your time.

I’d also recommend gaining practical industry experience where possible. In my prior role, I managed multiple electricity network installation projects, which involved frequent visits to substation sites. This experience was valuable in gaining a greater appreciation of the network environment, which I don’t think you can get from learning about it from afar.

What are you looking forward to right now?

We’re hosting an event at the GITC with one of the networks who have been participating in the innovation culture project. We’ll be sharing some of the innovative things PA has been doing and how it’s relevant to them. It’s a great place to host these kinds of events.

In the longer term I look forward to continuing to support activity around innovation culture, and I also look forward to future projects, whatever they may be. I don’t actually know – and that’s what I really like about PA; there are so many different interesting projects to get involved in.

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