The latest energy and utilities trends: PwC shares insight

AI could be an enabler for the energy & utilities workforce that frees up capacity to tackle more strategic challenges, says Danny Whigham, PwC Energy Lead

Danny Whigham is the US Energy, Utilities and Resources Consulting Leader at PwC, the global consultancy working to solve important problems. For more than 20 years, Danny has focused on identifying and delivering transformational programs at large to mid-sized utility clients across all business segments.

He shares his expert insight on energy and utilities trends with Energy Digital.

What is the role of cloud-based solutions in modern energy management?

With business and customer needs, as well as technological advancements, simultaneously rapidly evolving, energy and utilities companies are tasked with the challenge of keeping pace. 

Enter cloud-based solutions, which can help companies tackle both at once. 

To that end, PwC’s 2023 Cloud Business Survey found that cloud technology has already helped 48% of energy and utilities executives achieve measurable value in their efforts to connect customers, field, operations, assets, back office and other stakeholders in new and more efficient ways. We have seen cloud-based solutions play the role as an enabler to better connect systems, data and stakeholders that will enable a more agile, two-way grid to meet the demands of a more sustainable ecosystem.

Additional areas where leaders have realised benefits include enhanced growth and management of distributed generation and decarbonisation; enhanced data usage for asset performance and maintenance; and business growth through new business or services.

How have energy and utilities companies adapted their strategies in response to the pressure to meet sustainability goals?

At a high level, the key action industry leaders have taken is recognising the importance of linking their companies’ operations and ESG, as they are intertwined. 

According to PwC’s 2023 Digital Trends in Supply Chain Survey, a vast majority (92%) of respondents agreed that supply chain strategy and operations are important to executing their ESG strategy and that digital investments in this area have also benefited the supply chain (82%).

Now that they have that understanding, they need to start integrated planning. 

With increasing supplier diversity, it’s imperative that companies accurately measure and verify the supply chain’s contribution to their ESG goals, as well as coordinate investments across the enterprise instead of separate spending by individual functions. Despite all that, the survey also found that just 10% of respondents consider integrated planning a top three priority for the next 12 to 18 months, indicating that companies still have a ways to go towards adapting their strategies to meet ESG goals.

In the race to a cleaner energy future, consumers may hold the key. How can companies encourage their customers to change their habits?

A key component of achieving a more sustainable and cleaner energy future is having renewed engagement from customers and having them understand just how much energy they’re using and when they are using most of it. We’re in an age now where it’s going to have to take everyone pitching in to reach that goal. We’ve got to figure out how we can enable customers to change their usage habits.

An interesting example is how we solve the recurring outages caused by peak demand. As a consumer, simply understanding when peak energy demand occurs in the area where you operate your home or business, and adjusting usage during that time, can not only support the reduction of our greenhouse gas footprint but optimise the existing generation footprint. It can also reduce the amount of future investment needed to produce the electricity we need, keeping our bills as affordable as possible. Additionally, if a consumer also produces or stores energy/electricity, releasing it during these times of peak need also supports and reduces disruption to the local community, but many times you can reap the benefits of being your own energy producer via a charge back to your bill. 

When it comes to the oil & gas industry, this kind of shift in behaviour is going to be dependent on whether a company is using a provider for its operations, or an individual being a casual user of the commodity. For the latter, it’s really up to consumers to decide how much energy they’re using; as an example, would someone move to a new area where they have a shorter commute to work, or even ride a bike or scooter instead?

I think there’s got to be a dynamic where the consumer has to start being a part of the equation. As reflected in PwC’s 2023 US Large Energy User Survey, respondents have expressed interest in being more involved in the journey to cleaner energy. So let’s bring them in.

As emerging tech expands into various industries, how can companies in the sector harness AI to tackle menial tasks?

While artificial intelligence isn’t going to replace human labour in the energy and utilities industry in the near future, it can make the workforce’s day-to-day lives easier. Examples include:

  • Smart grid optimisation: AI can streamline the distribution of electricity by analysing data from smart metres, weather forecasts and historical usage patterns. This helps companies balance supply and demand, reduce energy waste and improve overall grid efficiency.
  • Predictive maintenance: The technology can analyse sensor data from equipment and infrastructure to predict maintenance needs and potential failures. In an advanced example, local environmental data (actual as well as forecasted) can be layered in to predict what parts of the grid are more susceptible to emergent weather and resulting outages. By identifying issues in advance, companies can schedule maintenance or replacement proactively, reduce downtime and optimise asset performance.
  • Demand response management: AI can help utilities manage peak demand periods by analysing historical data and predicting demand patterns. This enables utilities to incentivise consumers to reduce their energy usage during peak times, balancing the load on the grid and avoiding blackouts.
  • Customer service and billing: AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can handle routine customer inquiries, provide billing information, and offer energy-saving tips. This improves customer service efficiency and reduces the workload on human agents.

If used effectively, AI could be an enabler for the energy and utilities workforce that frees up capacity to tackle more strategic challenges.

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You may also be interested in Sustainability Magazine and EV Magazine

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Net Zero LIVE will be hosted live from the QEII Centre, London on the 6th and 7th of March, and streamed globally via our virtual event platform Brella. Net Zero LIVE London will feature four LIVE themes, incorporating Sustainability LIVE, EV LIVE, Scope 3 LIVE, and Energy LIVE to deliver a holistic conference and exhibition experience with opportunities to connect with like-minded peers and actively contribute to crafting a sustainable future. Following Net Zero LIVE, viewers can also sign up for Sustainability LIVE Dubai and Singapore. 

Sign up to the The Global Sustainability & ESG Awards 2024, coming to London on the 11th September 2024. 

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