Michael T. Burr is Public Utilities Fortnightly’s editor-at-large.
The purpose of utility-system automation, in a nutshell, is to bring utility service into the 21st century. Intelligent systems, data endpoints throughout the grid, and two-way communications linking those components to the back office will provide a much clearer picture of system operations—and greater control over those operations.
These advancements will help improve customer service by allowing utilities to respond sooner to situations that cause outages—but only if workforce processes make use of the intelligence these new systems provide.
“I believe the efficient operation and maintenance of the distribution network is the last fertile ground for dramatic cost reductions in utility processes,” says Scott Harris, vice president of the energy business unit at Sapias in Cicero, N.Y. “A lot of money is being spent on planning and design, and the mechanism of workforce and mobile-asset management is to complement that and hone processes as new intelligent technology is brought to bear.”
The intelligent grid is still a new concept for U.S. gas and electric utilities, and thus none have fully implemented its capabilities to maximize the efficiency of workforce operations. A few recent deployments, however, are lighting the workforce-management path for 21st century utilities.