Utility companies are continuously facing change – whether internal or external. With this change comes several challenges that have the potential to disrupt the industry at large if firms don’t evolve. These concerns are constantly on the minds of our utility engineers who work with some of the biggest providers of electricity, natural gas and power companies. We posed the question to several of our staff serving our utilities clients and asked their thoughts on the key issues and opportunities facing their clients today. Here are some of their responses and strategies needed for the continued future success of utility operations.
What is the #1 challenge facing Utilities clients today?
|“The demand for distributed energy resources (DER) from customers, coupled with legislation and incentives from the government, is pushing Utilities to adjust the standard model for the electrical infrastructure. Utilities have to be able to adapt to this changing landscape both technically and financially. As more small-scale generation goes online it becomes difficult to manage the grid to avoid frequency fluctuation, maintain voltage levels and avoid both load and fault masking. Aside from the technical considerations, Utilities will also have to adjust their business model to account for shifts in revenue as houses and communities produce their own electricity.”||
Distribution Engineering Director
|“The Importance of Master Planning with Limited Real Estate! In my opinion, a major challenge for Utilities going forward is their long term planning for their infrastructure in urban environments. What worked in decades past may not be optimal for future generations. Priorities on upgrading equipment and physical assets are informed by political, economic and social forces while solutions are increasingly constrained by limited space and new safety requirements. The existing environment is often not suitable for the task. Without long term prudence in real estate planning and purchase, solutions will skyrocket in engineering cost and technology. While technology can be a salve and solution to many problems, preventive and proactive real estate acquisition may provide flexibility for future service to the next generation.”||
|“I think the number one challenge facing Utilities clients today is getting themselves updated to today’s technology. A lot of companies have a hard time ditching antiquated software because they’ve invested time and money into what they have. Also, people don’t like change. It makes it even more challenging when you’re a large company with 1,000+ employees who likely also don’t like change. This is also true for construction materials, specifications, and procedures. It is difficult to adopt new technology when you know old tried-and-true methods that still work – even if they aren’t the most efficient or cost effective. This compounded with the exponential rate of growth of technology makes it harder than ever to stay up-to-date.”||
|“Utility growth is a challenge. The utility industry and companies are a non-stop growing machine. The open space available for existing utilities, and upgrades to those systems, is becoming tougher as we run out of space in most metropolitan areas. Internationally, we see that many countries have not found a good way to deal with this problem yet. This also brings up a problem for new competing companies in the utility fields as they find it more and more difficult to add their utility in parkways. To keep the utility fields competitive there will be a need for joint work between the competitors using the same space, such as communications companies share space with underground systems.”||
|“Keeping aging systems up-to-date with new technology. I don’t just mean the equipment in the field. Many utilities have old legacy drawings that can be over 50 years old. There is CAD software that can help make the legacy drawings smart and link the drawings together, but many utilities don’t have the funding to implement this kind of technology across their entire company. It is a massive undertaking that requires new software, training and possibly new computers. If the utility is willing to make the investment in their own drawings, there is an opportunity to save thousands of dollars.”||
Support Services Lead
|“A major challenge is that Utilities are trying to align themselves and their vision in a shifting environment. Infrastructure spends are addressing reliability concerns yet confound the integration of renewables into the distribution resource equation. An aging workforce is challenged with innovations brought about to leverage technology advancements. And the business itself is looking for new ways to enhance their service offerings to customers – whom need to be further educated about how to revise their perspective on traditional utility service.”||
Senior Vice President
|“Knowledge continuity within key positions is a significant challenge for utilities. There is a huge opportunity in tacit knowledge (common knowledge) being shared.”||
PMO Reporting Expert
|“The biggest challenge facing Utilities today is natural disasters and a changing climate. Weather is an uncontrollable factor that causes widespread damage at a faster pace than man power and the economy can fix.”||
Project Manager Consultant