Innovation in Utilities

The first plenary session was on innovation in utilities during the pandemic. The session was moderated by Richard Schomberg, IEC ambassador and chairman, IEC Smart Energy Systems Committee, and vice-president, EDF. The session included presentations and addresses by Mark F. McGranaghan, vice-president, Electric Power Research Institute and EPRI Fellow; Ganesh Srinivasan, CEO, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited; Vineet Sikka, senior vice-president, BSES Rajdhani Power Limited; Beni Suryadi, manager, ASEAN Centre for Energy; Brajesh Kumar, senior vice-president (business), BYPL; Gerhard Gamperl, director – head of strategy, corporate development and sustainability, Verbund, Austria; Leonid Lev, senior expert and manager, Israel Electric Company; Murali Krishna Gannamani, managing director and CEO, Fluentgrid Limited; and R.P. Singh, VP of strategic partnerships and customer success, Smart Energy Water.

Richard Schomberg, IEC Ambassador and Chairman, IEC Smart Energy Systems Committee, and Vice-President, EDF

McGranaghan highlighted that the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic created new demands for distribution and transmission utilities in terms of staff monitoring, testing and tracking; adoption of new sanitation and hygiene protocols; redesign of work protocols and facilities; IT/cybersecurity upgrades; and remote operations and cross-training of staff, among other things. He noted that in the post-Covid world, some of the avenues of research are health and disinfection, control centre strategies, field crew strategies, and operator and field training.

Srinivasan spoke about the significant drop in collection efficiency and the subsequent cash crunch witnessed by Tata Power-DDL, following the outbreak of the pandemic. He further highlighted that the digitalisation and automation of processes helped the discom ensure continuity of operations. Besides, self-meter reading and generation of bills on WhatsApp/email was useful. The discom also undertook drone-based inspections/survey of lines in containment zones. Various initiatives were taken by the utility in the areas of vendor and material management, customer connect, cash flow, employee health and morale, and cybersecurity.

Sikka noted that BRPL has been taking all the appropriate measures to ensure reliable power supply, without compromising the safety of customers and employees. Apart from the strict adherence to safety protocols, the substitution of physical interactions with virtual ones helped the utility to stay safe and successfully navigate the challenging times. Some of the initiatives taken by the utility were the setting up of appointment-based customer help desks, and mobile care centres in RWA for non-tech savvy customers and senior citizens. In conclusion, he stated that the digital transformation initiated during the pandemic is likely to be strengthened in the coming future. Further, targeted servicing using new technologies like Al and machine learning should be the future roadmap for utilities.

Beni Suryadi, Manager, ASEAN Centre for Energy

Suryadi began his address by highlighting that the Covid-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for the ASEAN economy, especially in the energy sector. He noted that in H1 2020, ASEAN experienced a significant electricity demand decline, which resulted in a revenue drop for utilities. The financial aid and stimulus packages were disbursed to ease the struggle. He noted that as demand rebound remains uncertain and many projects are stalled, master plans need to be re-evaluated. He concluded that in H1 2020, the renewable energy sector also struggled though the impact was less severe as compared to electricity and oil and gas. There is a strong possibility for a re-orientation of the ASEAN power sector, with renewable energy leading the recovery pathway in the future, he added.

Brajesh Kumar, Senior Vice-President (Business), BYPL

Kumar began by stating that the digital infrastructure, including SCADA and GIS-based solutions, set up by BYPL over the years helped it in maintaining operations during the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to address the challenges following the pandemic, the utility has set up a facilitation centre, which is operational 24×7, divided the team into various groups to maintain uninterrupted operations, and launched customer care services on virtual platforms.

Gamperl spoke about the broad portfolio of innovations and initiatives, which are active even during the pandemic. He noted that there were some delays in deliveries, but they could quickly adapt to the new normal and took advantage of the new way of work.

Lev noted that IEC is responsible for providing power and light to the entire state of Israel for almost 100 years. IEC is defined by law as an essential service provider and is recognised as a supercritical infrastructure. It undertook measures to operate smoothly during the Covid pandemic.

According to Murali, technology interventions must be mapped with utility KPIs. This is best done by setting up a utility operations centre. It offers real-time situational awareness and enables digital transformation. He shared the case study implemented by Fluentgrid in Uttar Pradesh, which was very useful in handling the billing situation during the pandemic-induced lockdown, and helped move 23.5 million consumers to the cloud. A similar project has been implemented by Fluentgrid for the NDMC utility, he added.

Singh noted that utilities need to resolve to determine the scale and pace required to protect the staff, manage critical business operations, ensure a safe return to the site, re-imagine the next new normal operating model, and reform to understand how the regulatory and competitive environment could change. He emphasised that it is important to strengthen enterprise resiliency for utilities. He added that SEW’s customer experience and work experience platforms have helped bring benefits to end consumers and utilities.

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