We are all global citizens who love our planet and rely upon electricity and fuel to power our lives. We see the increase in renewables, but also an ongoing reliance on conventional fossil fuels. Utilities will play an important role in how we manage the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future.
In years past, utilities often tracked and reported company performance based on statements of income, financial position, cash flow, market price, and dividends. Things have changed, not only in customer expectations, but also in what the market and shareholders seek.
Today, there is an expectation from all stakeholders, i.e., customers, investors, and employees, that executive leaders must also be accountable for non-financial factors. Along with annual reports, we have Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reports to track our progress and help us identify how we can do better.
The role of utilities in fighting climate change
Utilities rely on digital transformation and innovation to measure business outcomes from investments and change management efforts. Doing better on the environmental front offers additional and more meaningful rewards, fitting within the structural changes that are already happening in energy provisioning systems.
If these changes don’t align with efforts to drive greater sustainability, an opportunity with long-ranging global consequences will be lost. The clock is ticking. As noted in our Industry Predictions 2022 post, energy and utilities organizations are under significant pressure to help the world reach its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The opportunity is real—customers and employees want it, the increased demand on the electricity grid requires it, and there is an ability to utilize ESG rated funds to help finance the necessary investments.
As a result, the industry is increasingly aligned to play a critical role in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy generation. For the power sector, this means simultaneously decarbonizing while supporting an increase of nearly 40% in electric load by as early as 2035. This is a big opportunity and a big lift that requires new business models, players, infrastructure, and technology investments.
Making a difference one step (and mile) at a time
While these ambitious goals will allow us to keep the lights on (and water and gas flowing) until 2050 and beyond, utilities must also focus on immediate objectives across physical infrastructure, the data fabric, technology and software defined assets, and intelligent orchestration capabilities.
Spurred on by advances in technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), utility executives are refining the performance of existing operations to help drive immediate improvements—actively empowering frontline workers to efficiently construct, install, and maintain new and existing physical assets.
With climate change hot on our heels, reducing our carbon footprint is at the top of the list. Achieving this result while also driving business and financial outcomes is beneficial to the utility and the environment.
To achieve this, we must drive greater efficiencies across the entire operation. Every step helps. From how we coordinate work orders, schedule technicians, manage equipment in the field down to reducing individual truck rolls and associated mileage. By investing in digital capabilities, orchestration, intelligent operations, and data, utilities can proactively manage and measure their climate change initiatives.
A cleaner, greener operation with PSO
IFS planning and scheduling optimization (PSO) technology provides immediate relief for conventional utility ecosystems, renewables, and other emerging sectors, achieving greater efficiencies across new and existing operations:
With the adoption of AI and ML, planning has become more intelligent and predictive. Rather than simply ensuring enough workers are in place to cover all active orders, planners rely on sophisticated algorithms so they can make decisions that support the utility’s environmental and SLA objectives.
PSO technology allows planners to compare the actual with the possible. It automatically evaluates every alternative, creating an optimized plan in seconds regardless of the size of the workforce. For example, a PSO system is aware of regularly scheduled plant maintenance work for a client. The system can combine this with an active work order to resolve both in a single site visit.
Workers are assigned based on skills, experience, and geographical location. The system can even determine if a technician has had previous positive interactions with the customer to schedule the job.
With a PSO system, drive times are minimized, the necessary equipment and resources are identified in advance, and more first-time fixes are achieved, eliminating the need for second site visits.
All of these efficiencies have allowed utilities to reduce truck rolls, vehicle emissions, and fuel consumption, substantially decreasing their carbon footprint.
Even the best-laid plans change. For schedulers and dispatchers, a well-defined strategy can quickly become fluid due to many factors, including appointment changes, emergencies, job overruns, sick technicians, traffic problems, and other unanticipated scenarios.
Transitioning to a reactive state is costly. Suddenly technicians are spending more time in transit versus on-site. The backup worker dispatched may not have the necessary experience or skills to carry out the work, necessitating a second site visit before resolving the issue.
With a PSO system, AI capabilities recalculate the schedule in real-time. Dispatchers can even use the PSO system to tap into GPS mapping data to coordinate workers around unanticipated traffic delays. All factors are considered, such as the proximity of qualified technicians, other jobs that can be combined to reduce one-off journeys, and additional measures to increase efficiencies.
Scheduling with a PSO system allows the utility to do more with less. Every minute is optimized. Smaller teams of workers complete more site visits. Fewer miles are needed to attend to the work, reducing the environmental impact of these activities in the field, and helping utilities achieve their climate change objectives.
IFS utilities rely on PSO technology to automate and enhance many activities, including customer interactions.
For example, customers can use self-serve options to schedule service calls via a customer portal or mobile app. Instead of waiting in a long queue to speak to a human, the customer easily selects a date and time that works—for the customer and the utility. The system also provides them with the flexibility to make adjustments as needed.
This front-end integration with the PSO system drives additional efficiencies. It automatically calculates timeslots based on customer profiles and current activities, fitting each work order into the existing schedule. Alignment with environmental and SLA rules is assured in support of the digital orchestration capabilities of an ever-evolving intelligent operation.
Working towards our future state today
IFS PSO technology provides our utility clients with measurable improvements across the operation, reducing their carbon footprint so they can reach and exceed their environmental objectives. These advances align with the digital orchestration and event-driven business model needed to support legacy operations as well as the fast-growing renewables sectors.
The road ahead won’t be easy. By working together and applying new and existing technologies to the challenges we face, utilities worldwide will help us achieve a cleaner and greener future.
For more information about IFS Planning and Scheduling Optimization technology, watch our video.