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The Land of the MUSCos: Multi-Utility Service Companies Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Funding body: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Start Date: December 1st, 2011 End Date: November 30th, 2014

Involved staff

Leeds: Dr. Julia Steinberger (PI), Katy Roelich, Christof Knoeri, Dr. Sally Russell, Dr. Phil Purnell(Co-I); Cranfield University: Dr. Liz Varga (Co-I); University of Edinburgh: Prof. Gareth Harrison (Co-I); University of Newcastle: Prof. Phil Blythe (Co-I); University of Exeter: Prof. David Butler (Co-I); Oxford-Brookes University: Prof. Rajat Gupta (Co-I).

Summary

Present infrastructure service delivery, characterized by isolated supply streams for an uncontrolled demand, is uneconomical, inefficient, and ultimately unsustainable. What kinds of alternatives can be identified and implemented? In this project, we research and promote the establishment of Multi-Utility Service Companies, or MUSCos. The defining characteristics of a MUSCo are (1) the single point of service to multiple utilities; and (2) profiting from service delivery, not selling physical products. The emphasis on service delivery represents a paradigm shift away the supply and demand of physical flows (energy, water, etc) to the supply of services (ambient temperature, illumination, food preservation, cleanliness, etc). The lower the energy and water consumption of its clients, the higher the MUSCo's profit - as long as the MUSCo maintains the requested level of service provision.

Like infrastructure itself, MUSCos are a means to an end: the ultimate goal is the radical expansion of the best possible technology and efficiency measures, leading to large verified savings in resource use and reductions in carbon emissions. The goal of this project is to bring the age of the MUSCos forward: to characterize possible multi-utility service-based performance contracting, to understand the current opportunities and barriers to MUSCo development, and to realistically model the socio-technical systemic changes required for a true MUSCo expansion. Moreover, by bringing together engaged stakeholders from the user and provider communities, we hope to test MUSCo ideas in a present day context.

The methodology is based on the combination of three complementary components:

1. The investigation of multi-utility service contracts (including technical challenge of defining integrated services with possible substitutability of utility streams to satisfy the service demand). Where examples exist, we will search for best practices;

2. The survey of the governance landscape, regulatory and incentive structures of the different utilities, producers, distributors and other connected actors, to map the drivers, motivations and constraints of the current entities; and

3. The combination of these two streams of information into an integrated socio-technical model using the rules and inter-linkages defined in the previous components and capable of exploring future governance and technical scenarios.

This methodology is intended to aggregate prior research outcomes along with expert and stakeholder knowledge. The outcomes of the model will be critically assessed at regular intervals, in order to reach agreement on its robustness. This project represents a fundamental paradigm shift in the interactions between suppliers, providers and consumers of infrastructure services. The business model shifts resource use from a profit centre to a cost centre (and vice-versa for investments in efficiency), and enables infrastructure integration through the focus on the point of use.

Contact

Julia Steinberger J.K.Steinberger(at)leeds.ac.uk (Principal Investigator), Katy Roelich K.E.Roelich(at)leeds.ac.uk, Christof Knoeri C.Knoeri(at)leeds.ac.uk or Margo Hanson M.Hanson(at)leeds.ac.uk (administrator)