65b98127834abe001e659adf Swi Tdw 1540x800 Featureimage Article3 R20240118

Putting Data to Use - How Utilities Can Make Stronger Investment Planning Decisions

Feb. 1, 2024
The Role of Investment Planning

The electric power industry is undergoing a substantial transformation. As renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are playing a larger role in the overall energy mix, aging infrastructure and a rise in the number of damaging weather events are pressuring utilities to modernize equipment, improve resiliency, and optimize performance. 

Unfortunately, many utilities lack the data, expertise, and business intelligence capabilities to make the most effective investment decisions. At a time of record-breaking annual CAPEX, utilities need a consistent way to evaluate and compare the risks, benefits, and costs of potential investments to make stronger and more effective strategic decisions. 

The Role of Investment Planning

Investment planning is the process of deciding how to spend resources to achieve the best return. Because resources such as time, money, and people are limited, allocating them to one project takes them away from another. Investment planning allows utilities to prioritize certain investments without exceeding available resources. 

Within the utility industry, grid planning, or power systems planning, requires highly specialized and technical expertise. In addition to the financial aspects, decision-makers must also understand how the grid currently operates, evaluate asset health, and determine how best to deliver safe, reliable, and affordable power to customers. 

Investment planning is becoming increasingly complex as new technologies and new generating sources come online. Poor decisions made today can impact grid performance for years or even decades, meaning utilities need as much information as possible when deciding where to invest.

The Shortage of Usable Data

Utilities have access to a wide range of data across all divisions of the organization. Customer data, financial data, operational data, engineering data, and mapping data can all be used to improve operations and enhance decision-making.

However, in many cases, utilities are unable to use this data to its full potential.For example, because much of the existing grid infrastructure was built decades ago before digital systems, historical data is often held in the form of paper records. Where digital data does exist, it is often improperly formatted, segmented, or structured to be used in robust and comparative analysis. As a result, utilities that have hired data scientists or data analysts have spent most of their time cleaning up and formatting data rather than using it for investment planning. 

Similarly, some utilities have tried to implement business intelligence solutions to improve the collection and use of data. However, because these are typically generic solutions aimed at a broad audience, they lack the specific capabilities needed in the utility space. Understandably, utilities that have experienced failure with these solutions are hesitant to try again.

Bringing In the Right Skills and Expertise

The challenges involved with investment planning are exacerbated by the loss of experienced people who are leaving the industry. A recent report found that the average age of a utility worker in the US is over 50, while more than 50 percent of experienced utility workers are expected to retire within the next decade.

This loss of expertise is difficult to quantify on a spreadsheet or database. It represents a culmination of experience that can be used to interpret the data and put the numbers into context. And with fewer new workers entering the labour pool, and increased competition from high-tech companies and other industries, utilities must find ways to hire and develop data skills while transferring knowledge from older workers before they leave.  

To do this, utilities should look to break down internal silos and build cross-functional teams that bring together people from different departments. Asset planning teams should combine finance, operations and maintenance, customer service, and any other group that will be impacted by long-term capital investments. This range of voices and perspectives strengthens decision-making and allows for more in-depth conversations on potential projects. 

Leadership also plays an important role. Because the full payoff may only be seen down the road,  utility leadership must be champions of data and lead the push to improve the collection, storage, and use of data within their organization.

Leveraging Specialized Grid Planning Software

As mentioned, utilities have struggled to generate accurate grid investment planning data using generic business intelligence applications. Instead, utilities can turn to an advanced grid investment planning tool that has been designed and built specifically for the electric power industry. 

The data-driven platform automates the process of investment scenarios and forecasting while making it easier to manage asset health, optimize reliability, forecast performance, and ensure regulatory compliance. 

By providing analytics and leveraging asset data, such as age and condition, the software automatically generates prioritized investment policies based on each asset’s quantified risks, allowing for continuous improvement and better, faster decision-making. 

With improved access to relevant data, utilities have the intelligence needed to prioritize investments and undertake capital projects that provide long-term benefits to the organization.

Making Stronger Asset Planning Decisions

The electric grid is a highly complex system that needs to operate safely, reliably, and effectively. Any potential failure can have substantial consequences in the form of lost revenue, regulatory penalties, and a damaged reputation.

As utilities look to upgrade existing grid infrastructure and add new technologies to optimize performance, investment planning decisions must be based on accurate, timely, and relevant data. 

Compared to generic business intelligence software, a specialized solution provides the capabilities needed to plan, budget, forecast, and prioritize investments, ensuring utilities can make the best decisions and generate the most return when deciding how to allocate scarce resources.

About Systems With Intelligence Inc.

Systems With Intelligence Inc. is a global provider of Touchless™ Monitoring Solutions for electric utility applications. SWI systems collect and analyze the data that allows utilities to increase safety and reliability while reducing operating costs. Coupling thermal monitoring and visual imaging technology with advanced analytic algorithms, Systems With Intelligence solutions automate remote site monitoring. 

Systems With Intelligence products are engineered to operate in the harshest environments, withstand high levels of electromagnetic interference, static discharge and voltage surges found in industrial applications to ensure uninterrupted operation. Providing a monitoring system that operates reliably and connects seamlessly allows customers to remain focussed on their operations. 

The Systems With Intelligence management and technical teams are comprised of professionals with extensive experience in advanced technology for mission critical applications in harsh environments. With domain expertise in substation and industrial automation, communications and utility operations our team is uniquely positioned to deliver effective and intelligent monitoring solutions.

For more information, visit the company's official website at www.SystemsWithlntelligence.com

This content is sponsored by:

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of T&D World, create an account today!