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How Utility Companies Can Improve Service While Lowering Costs

As demand for utilities increases, providers need to find a way to improve service and reliability without increasing costs. That’s difficult to do, especially with legacy infrastructure and increasing weather-related problems that strain resources and damage components like electrical grids.

Electrical grids are just one area where utilities facing challenges. According to Inside Energy, electrical outages are increasing. The five-year annual average of outages doubled every five years from 2000 to 2013.¹ Those outages not only drive down service quality, they also cause costs to skyrocket.

So what can you do?

Upgrade. New technology is making it easier for utilities to provide more reliable service without increasing costs. These three tips will help you get started.

1. Improve Data and Analytics

Data and analytics aren’t just for creating reports, they’re also one of the keys to improving service quality and reliability. With data and analytics, you can review historical and current performance, taking a deep dive into your utility’s problems to determine what went wrong where, and why.

To improve your analytics, make sure you’re collecting as much information as possible. Combine everything you collect from all your systems, including IT, operations, and external data sources. Put all your data in a single system so you can get a 360-degree view of your organization and its resources.

Once you have a master view of your organization, use the data to analyze where outages are occurring and how frequently. You can use surrounding data, such as temperature and weather, to see what’s triggering your outages and why, then act to solve the root cause of the problem. By solving the root cause, you’re more likely to prevent future outages, improving service quality and cutting costs long term.

2. Invest in Machine Learning

Unfortunately, with big data comes big problems. Humans simply can’t process and analyze all the information that comes in from utilities, especially when smart grids are involved.

To handle all the information you get, invest in technology that includes AI tools such as machine learning. Machine learning can sift through large quantities of data, becoming more effective over time. As it combs through data, AI will recognize patterns, “learning” what’s normal in your system and what isn’t.

The best AI technology won’t just learn, it will proactively flag problems and make predictions about outages. Real-time alerts will help improve your reaction time so you can deal with outages quickly and efficiently, reducing their frequency and duration. Machine learning can also analyze asset reliability, identifying which assets have the greatest probability of a failure that will cause an outage. You can then service those outages before a problem occurs.

3. Find Region-Specific Technology Solutions

Utilities aren’t one-size-fits-all organizations. Your region likely has specific challenges that can cause outages and failures. Use historical data and analytics to find the biggest problems in your region, then look for solutions that address them.

California, for example, has been dealing with increasingly severe wildfires for years. When they reach electrical grids, wildfires can knock out assets and cause widespread power outages, so some utilities in California have implemented unique solutions to help them avoid such issues.

One California utility uses a machine learning platform with infrared technology to highlight areas where fires are burning. The system uses wind speed and trajectory data to determine the fire’s path, overlaying that information on the utility systems’ map. Staff use the map to see what assets are at risk and develop contingency plans that keep service up. Look for similar solutions for your utility, starting with large companies like Nokia that have invested significant resources in developing flexible, next-gen solutions for utilities.

Cut Costs by Reducing Outage Frequency and Duration

Technology that improves your data, analytics, and reaction time is an upfront investment, but it pays off in the long term. As your technology proactively identifies your at-risk assets and reduces the frequency and duration of outages, you’ll cut costs dramatically. With the right system, you can even better prepare for environmental challenges like wildfires, improving your service regardless of the situation surrounding your grid.

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Referenced Sources:

¹ https://mobile-experts.net/Home/Report/91

Case Study: IoT is redefining the customer experience. Nokia case study.

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