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Modernizing energy and utilities for customer experience, efficiency and zero carbon operations


Energy and utility industries need to consider large scale changes driven by the imperative need to match sustainability targets, and replacement of ageing infrastructure, explains Issam Lachgar, Director, Gulf Region at IFS.

“By 2050, on our current path, the world’s global carbon emissions will fall 60% short of our net zero target.”

Issam Lachgar, Director, Gulf Region at IFS explains

Large scale changes are transforming energy and utilities infrastructure from the ground up. For many organizations, even with help from governments, investors and rate payers, funding for these projects will fall short, placing a greater onus on internal efficiencies. These include better management of critical assets, optimizing field workforces, and conducting business operations quickly and accurately.

According to a recent IDC report, technology plays an important role. With modern infrastructure in place to manage assets, field service activities, and resource planning, organizations will see an increase in productivity by at least 18%. This represents meaningful savings that can be redirected to large infrastructure projects.

Technology will continue to underpin how we meet and exceed the expectations of our customers, allowing us to deliver meaningful moments of service. With AR, AI, machine learning, IoT and other advances, customer interactions are enhanced.

Many organizations have already implemented a modern, proactive approach to customer engagement, automating many parts of the interaction for greater efficiencies and flexibility for the customer and the business.

Edge innovations are also delivering new and exciting customer engagement models. For example, merged reality allows technicians to interact remotely with customers, guiding them through troubleshooting procedures and service activities.

Sustainability falling short

By 2050, on our current path, the world’s global carbon emissions will fall 60% short of our net zero target. With most of the international community pledging to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the pressure is on; though at our current pace, the world is falling behind. Fortunately, we still have time to turn things around. 

For energy and utilities organizations, this will require a significant commitment. Encouragingly, many are stepping up. The US is targeting a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. In 2030, the goal is to reduce emissions by 50-52%, which would achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Some optimists predict the industry could hit net zero by 2035.

In Europe, 22 of the 25 largest power and gas utilities have set net-zero emissions targets. Some coal-powered plants in Europe and other regions have shut down operations to become clean energy leaders within renewables.

In the US, the transition from fossil fuels to electricity generated by renewables will require the electric-power sector to simultaneously decarbonize, while supporting an increase of about 40% in electric load by as early as 2035.

Organizations must move away from siloed products to platforms or a system of systems strategy that delivers real-time data for real-time results. This digitization of the operation will allow energy and utilities organizations to accurately answer two important questions: How can power be distributed in the most efficient and socio-economic way possible? How much power is required?

In tandem, organizations must become good stewards of their own operations, controlling and reducing carbon emissions generated throughout their supply chain and in the field. Again, technology will play a critical role. For example, predictive maintenance and scheduling will drive operational efficiencies to help organizations achieve these goals.

Transmission infrastructure

Infrastructure must be modernized and strengthened to accommodate the increased electric loads for the sustainable energy goals we’ve set. This will require a complete overhaul of existing transmission facilities.

In the US, construction of new transmission facilities will cost an estimated $314 to $504 billion. This does not include the $1.8 to $2.1 trillion in new generation costs needed to hit the 2035 goal of a carbon pollution-free power sector.

To offset this, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was signed into law in the US in November 2021 and includes $1.2 trillion in spending, with an additional $550 billion subsequently added.

Europe adopted an EU-wide planning approach to transmission infrastructure, unlike the US which is managed by multiple entities. In October 2020, EU Member States agreed on a proposal to invest €998 million in critical European energy infrastructure projects.

Yet even with all of the new and increased spending, the cost versus investment will fall short. This puts more pressure on energy and utility organizations—and the people they serve—to make up the shortfall.

Additional costs for transmission infrastructure includes the undergrounding of vulnerable lines and equipment. In the US, the need to go underground takes on greater urgency due to the catastrophic wildfires caused by extreme weather events and the sparking of flames by fallen transmission lines.

The pandemic continues to impact how energy and utility organizations interact with their customers; with many experts predicting we will never go back to old ways.

As with most industries, customer interactions have shifted to remote and digital models, forcing utilities to increase their investment in new technologies. This has allowed utilities to expand communication channels, digitize basic services, and create more self-service options with a personalized experience.

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