Before and after natural disasters, predictive analytics increases field service efficiency
2017 was a record setter for natural disasters and the United States saw several very devastating storms. So devastating in fact, that three Atlantic storm names have been retired from future use. Unfortunately, 2018 isn’t looking more promising so far. While the impact of destructive weather on people’s lives takes priority, it also imposes pressure on utilities like electricity, gas, water and sewage to restore services as quickly as possible to help people recover from these disasters.
It is paramount that utilities have the technology, strategies and plans in place before storms hit to avoid and quickly recover from any service disruption. One technology that can help utilities recover more quickly from a weather event is through the use of predictive analytics within their repair and maintenance strategies. Predictive analytics use historical service data and machine learning to identify certain outcomes.
By analyzing data from past service incidents, utilities can better manage resource capacity through a more accurate assessment of contributing factors to future performance, such as weather, job type, technician seniority, and day of the week. This information enables utilities to optimize scheduling, routing and job prioritization. The end result is a quicker reaction time and faster restoration of service.
For example, predictive analytics can help a utility in Florida better prepare for hurricane season. By analyzing historical data collected from past hurricanes, utilities can make planning decisions, such as scheduling a reserve of field resources and equipment during hurricane season, to ensure there are enough resources in place to respond to urgent situations. After a disaster occurs, predictive analytics can identify the areas that suffered the most damage in past storms in order to allow for the strategic placement of resources so they can respond as fast as possible with the correct equipment and skills. During massive outages, it enables utilities to know how long certain tasks or types of repairs took to fix. With more accurate insights into job duration, utilities can better schedule repairs and manage customer expectations around service restoration, helping to improve the customer experience during a very stressful time.
For utilities, predictive analytics enable field service organizations to properly plan long-cycle work to be scheduled only outside of hurricane season. Similarly, it can ensure that the most important repair and maintenance tasks are completed before the next hurricane season arrives. This knowledge helps arm field service managers with information to enable better planning and resource utilization year round.
From prioritization to maintenance forecasting and schedule optimization, utilities that adopt predictive capabilities will see increased efficiency and optimization during normal operations as well as in emergency situations. Most importantly, predictive maintenance is a key tool in delivering exceptional customer experience. Providing a great customer experience, especially during a severe weather event, can increase satisfaction through better communication and faster recovery times enabled by predictive analytics. Predictive analytics provide the ability to more accurately develop the plans and response strategies for natural disasters as well as during normal day to day operations. Predictive analytics can help field service organizations at utilities weather any storm.
Steve Smith is the Vice President of Strategic Industries at ClickSoftware
Ofwat allows retailers to raise prices from April
Retailers can recover a portion of excess bad debt by temporarily increasing prices from April 2022, according to an Ofwat statement.
The regulator confirmed its view that levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue, thereby allowing "a temporary increase" in the maximum prices. Adjustments to price caps will apply for a minimum of two years to reduce the step changes in price that customers might experience.
Measures introduced since March 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19 could lead to retailers facing higher levels of customer bad debt. Retailers’ abilities to respond to this are expected to be constrained by Ofwat strengthening protections for non-household customers during Covid-19 and the presence of price caps.
In April last year, Ofwat committed to provide additional regulatory protection if bad debt costs across the market exceeded 2% of non-household revenue.
Georgina Mills, Business Retail Market Director at Ofwat said: “These decisions aim to protect the interests of non-household customers in the short and longer term, including from the risk of systemic Retailer failure as the business retail market continues to feel the impacts of COVID-19. By implementing market-wide adjustments to price caps, we aim to minimise any additional costs for customers in the shorter term by promoting efficiency and supporting competition.”
There are also three areas where Ofwat has not reached definitive conclusions and is seeking further evidence and views from stakeholders:
- Pooling excess bad debt costs – Ofwat proposes that the recovery of excess bad debt costs is pooled across all non-household customers, via a uniform uplift to price caps.
- Keeping open the option of not pursuing a true up – For example if outturn bad debt costs are not materially higher than the 2% threshold.
- Undertaking the true up – If a 'true up' is required, Ofwat has set out how it expects this to work in practice.
Further consultation on the proposed adjustments to REC price caps can be expected by December.
"While it’s great that regulators are helping the industry deal with bad debt in the wake of the pandemic, raising prices only treats the symptoms. Instead, water companies should head upstream, using customer data to identify and rectify the causes of bad debt, stop it at source and help prevent it from occurring in the first place," she said.
"While recouping costs is a must, water companies shouldn’t just rely on the regulator. Data can help companies segment customers, identify and assist customers that are struggling financially, avoiding penalising the entire customer in tackling the cause of the issue."
United Utilities picks up pipeline award
A race-against-time plumbing job to connect four huge water pipes into the large Haweswater Aqueduct in Cumbria saw United Utilities awarded Utility Project of the Year by Pipeline Industries Guild.
The Hallbank project, near Kendal, was completed within a tight eight-day deadline, in a storm and during the second COVID lockdown last November – and with three hours to spare. Principal construction manager John Dawson said the project helped boost the resilience of water supplies across the North West.
“I think what made us stand out was the scale, the use of future technology and the fact that we were really just one team, working collaboratively for a common goal," he said.
Camus Energy secures $16m funding
Camus Energy, which provides advanced grid management technology, has secured $16 million in a Series A round, led by Park West Asset Management and joined by Congruent Ventures, Wave Capital and other investors, including an investor-owned utility. Camus will leverage the operating capital to expand its grid management software platform to meet growing demand from utilities across North America.
As local utilities look to save money and increase their use of clean energy by tapping into low-cost and low-carbon local resources, Camus' grid management platform provides connectivity between the utility's operations team, its grid-connected equipment and customer devices.