How Power Utilities Can Overcome the 4 Biggest Challenges Impacting Their Industry

February 25, 2020

The utilities industry is no stranger to constant change, whether due to emerging technologies, stakeholder expectations, regulations, or customer demands. In recent years, however, the pace of change has intensified as technologies are evolving faster than ever before and climate change is increasing strain on infrastructure.

The prominent emerging challenges that utilities must tackle are: 

1. Older infrastructure that needs to be repaired or hardened

2. New customer expectations for increased visibility

3. An aging, retiring workforce

4. More unexpected outages due to climate change

Though adapting to these four changes is important for power utilities to remain profitable and competitive, over 82% of utility companies don’t think they can conquer these changes within the next five years. But utilities that leverage a telematics solution are in a better position to overcome these challenges. Here’s how: 

1. Efficiently repair and replace infrastructure through real-time fleet tracking and an open API

Spending on infrastructure repairs and replacements has been steadily increasing over the last decade. Old transmission equipment is aging and breaking, and new power equipment is needed to meet state decarbonization targets and address customer demands for more renewable sources of energy. Power utilities are finding themselves constantly working to upkeep station equipment, overhead lines, poles, and pipes. Because of this increased workload, replacing and improving the reliability of equipment now makes up most of utilities’ budgets. 

To avoid being overwhelmed with repairs or completing projects over-budget, power utilities can leverage their telematics solutions to address their increasing workload. With a telematics solution that provides remote, real-time visibility into your assets and vehicles, you can ensure projects run smoothly and on-time. 

If your telematics provider is equipped with usage reports, like Samsara’s Utilization Report, you can see which parts of your fleet are at which job sites so you don’t under- or over-allocate resources. By properly allocating your resources, you maximize job efficiency—helping keep projects on schedule and within, or even under, budget. 

In addition, telematics solutions that provide an open API can further streamline asset and vehicle management. You can leverage an open API to consolidate all your fleet data across multiple systems into one consolidated view. For example, you can integrate with your asset management and Geographic Information Systems to see where service is needed and which technicians are closest. You can then easily dispatch technicians to those locations to make repairs or restore service—all within a single platform. 



2. Exceed changing customer expectations with live outage repair updates

Outside of requesting greater access to more renewable forms of energy, customers have come to expect more visibility and insights into the companies they receive service from—and power utilities are no exception. Companies like Amazon and Uber have made customers expect that they should always be able to track products and services from companies in real time.

Real-time visibility is especially important to customers during unplanned service outages. Emergency outages due to severe weather or natural disasters can leave customers anxious and scared. Not knowing when they’ll have their power restored only serves to intensify these anxieties. 

Your telematics platform is a valuable tool to give your customers insights into what your technicians are doing to restore power. Telematics providers, like Samsara, that offer real-time GPS vehicle tracking let you easily share ETAs with customers. When you dispatch a technician to address an outage, you can share their live location with customers in the impacted area. Customers can track your technicians in real time, so they have a better idea of when they can expect their power back.

By giving your customers full visibility into the ETA of their service restoration, you demonstrate your reliability and care for them—which serves as a huge boost to customer satisfaction. 

3. Overcome the challenges of an aging workforce with incentives and safety rewards programs

If you’re currently experiencing a shortage of workers, you’re far from alone—nearly 72% of all energy employers report they’re having difficulty finding talent. And this difficulty is only expected to increase in the years to come. 

Why are there so few workers? Most technicians (and skilled laborers in general) are Baby Boomers—and an estimated 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring from the workforce everyday. For utilities, this means their current workforce may decline by as much as 50% over the next five to 10 years. 

To attract new technicians and field workers, it’s important to focus on improving safety. In the utilities industry, crashes and collisions are common, mostly due to large fleet vehicles operating in narrow, residential streets. Having a reputation for employee safety attracts more workers because they feel they’ll be protected on the job. 

With a telematics solution that offers AI dash cams, you can improve your fleet’s safety by building out coaching programs based on actual footage and driver safety scores. Telematics devices, like the Samsara Vehicle Gateway, can detect safety-related events, like harsh braking or accelerating, so you can take action to reduce unsafe incidents on the road. When you pair this safety data with footage from dash cams, you can see what caused the safety event—maybe an animal ran in front of your driver, causing them to slam the brakes. 

Using safety data and dash cam footage, you can coach drivers on how to improve their driving, so you can improve the overall safety of your fleet. You can additionally use this safety data to reward your safest drivers through bonuses, plaques, or even a special parking spot at work. Rewards programs serve as a way to show your potential employees you value and care for your workers, which can make them more likely to join your company.



4. Combat the impact of climate change with faster dispatching

Severe weather events are the leading cause of large-scale utility outages in the country, leaving hundreds of millions of customers without service and costing power utilities billions of dollars every year. In the last decade, outages due to extreme weather have increased by 350%. And with the impacts of climate change growing stronger, these kinds of outages are only expected to increase. 

While it may feel like you have little control over whether the weather downs your utilities, improving your dispatch efficiency can make you better equipped to deal with outages related to climate change. 

Reducing your response time to emergency outages starts with the health of your vehicles. If your fleet is constantly, unexpectedly breaking down and in and out of shops, it’s difficult to have vehicles road-ready to dispatch when repairs are needed. A telematics solution that automatically pulls engine usage data and fault codes in real time allows your mechanics to build out preventative maintenance schedules to avoid unexpected breakdowns. Using this engine data, your mechanics can know precisely when to change out oil, brake pads, or batteries so your vehicles are always ready to dispatch and won’t breakdown en route to outages. 

If your telematics platform provides SMS and email alerts when engine fault codes are detected, like Samsara does, your mechanics can prepare necessary tools and parts before vehicles arrive at their shops. This helps to reduce maintenance downtime, so your fleet can quickly get back to work.

Tracking emergency equipment can also help you improve your dispatch response time. For instance, if you rely on generators to power plants or pumps during an unexpected outage, it’s vital you always know where those assets are. Telematics solutions that provide asset tracking let you easily identify where any emergency repair equipment is so your technicians don’t have to waste valuable hours manually searching for necessary equipment. 

If your telematics provider also uses real-time GPS vehicle tracking, you can quickly see which technician is closest to emergency equipment and dispatch them to retrieve it. This allows you to create efficient, streamlined dispatch processes in the case of an emergency. And the faster you can respond to outages, the more your customers will appreciate you.

You have the tools to help overcome the challenges facing utilities 

Utility companies are having to quickly respond to changes in their industry due to new customer expectations, the rise of climate change, an aging workforce, and new infrastructure requirements. While these changes may seem daunting, your company can overcome them with a telematics solution that provides real-time GPS tracking, automated engine usage data, an open API, and asset tracking. 

If you aren’t currently leveraging a telematics solution with these capabilities, reach out today for a free trial or demo

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