Land of the MUSCOS

 

Current 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?

Overview

Professor Rajat Gupta is a co-investigator on household technologies for the this project, aimed at researching and promoting 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.

A MUSCo model integrates the end-user, through the establishment of contracts based on explicit service requirements, driving innovation through a focus on performance. It would lead to greater integration of infrastructures and utility streams, since the MUSCo would be a single point of service, aggregating information and enabling common planning. The MUSCo model could also be expected to encourage more adaptable and resilient infrastructure design, enabling demand management through greater integration of information and knowledge of the end-user requirements. 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.

Methodology

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.

Outcomes

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.

PROJECT TEAM

CONTACT DETAILS

Low Carbon Building Group

Oxford Brookes University
Headington Campus
Gipsy Lane
Oxford, OX3 0BP