The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in state-wide lockdowns, mass event cancellations and the closure of workplaces, as social distancing measures become key to slowing the spread of the disease. Despite the restrictions on travel and in-person meetings, the Digital Utilities event was able to connect utility leaders across the country by moving quickly to deliver a successful digital conference.

Hosting an event can be challenging at the best of times, and a global pandemic is an unprecedented situation for most event organisers. With the Coronavirus situation changing far more rapidly than anyone could have anticipated, on Friday 13 March it became clear that Digital Utilities 2020 could and should not go ahead as a live event.

In only three business days, the entire conference program was transferred to an online format, ensuring the safety of attendees by removing the need to travel and meet face-to-face in large numbers.

In the utility industry, embracing digital technologies and business models is vital for optimising asset management, improving network operations and keeping up with changing customer demands – as video conferencing and remote working become the new normal, Digital Utilities was able to create something of value for all participants and ensure conversations around the highly relevant topic of digital transformation could still take place.

From 19-20 March, over 130 delegates tuned in to watch the Zoom webinar live, with many others intending to watch the presentation recordings at their leisure. A lot of valuable information was exchanged and there was plenty of social interaction through the in-built Q&A and chat functions.

Off to a strong start

The support for the digital conference from speakers, sponsors, exhibitors and delegates was overwhelming, with many commenting how glad they were that the event still went ahead, with the majority of industry gatherings cancelled or postponed for the foreseeable future.

Bentley Systems – a global software development company with a portfolio of solutions that accelerate project delivery and improve asset performance – maintained its role as the Event Partner for a third year running, kicking off day one of the webinar with an informative presentation about digital twins.

John Da Mina, Regional Director ANZ at Bentley Systems, discussed the applications of digital twins for utilities, offering practical advice on how the technology’s immersive visualisation and analytics visibility can help achieve a deeper understanding of utility infrastructure assets.

In his presentation Using technology to highlight the risks overhead, Aaron Smith, HSE Business Partner & Community Safety Manager at Energy Queensland, discussed the lifesaving tool developed by the utility to improve safety around powerlines.

“ is an online mapping application that pinpoints the location of 178,000km of overhead powerlines and 1.7 million poles across Queensland,” Mr Smith said.

“At Energy Queensland, a team of community safety specialists has been collecting statistics on accidental powerline contacts for over ten years to better understand why these incidents are occurring and how they could be prevented. From the outcomes of the investigations a clear issue stands out – a distinct lack of planning and powerline awareness.

“The team has fostered a positive and proactive association within the community by building awareness of the dangers of accidental contact with powerlines. The Look Up and Live tool is an extension of this and enables behaviour change by helping workers to adequately plan work and put effective controls in place, assisting businesses to keep their workers safe and be legislatively compliant.”

Natasha Ogonowski, Water Sensitive Cities Program Manager at Water Corporation, and Peter Condon, Data Science Team Leader at Western Power, both shared case studies that demonstrated the practical applications of digital technologies in real-world situations as part of the conference’s Technical Session.

Ms Ogonowski took delegates through Water Corporation’s H2OME study, which utilises the most advanced technology available to determine how much water Perth should be using to preserve the liveability, amenity and quality of life of its community.

“H2OME is a one-year mixed methods study followed by a four-year longitudinal study that will give Water Corporation the insights it needs to help secure our water future,” Ms Ogonowski said.

“The study of 2,500 households combines digital metering data with household data on fixtures, fittings and appliance efficiency, attitudes, demographics, billing, marketing and communications with big data sets comprising weather, spatial land and CSIRO
photogrammetry data to understand the drivers of water use.”

Mr Condon explained how Western Power is improving operational response to incidents by embedding automated forecasts from its Short Term Operational Response Model (STORM) inside scheduling and dispatch processes, resulting in faster response times, shorter outage duration and more efficient spending.

“By blending traditional engineering knowledge with geomorphological analysis and state-of-the-art machine learning, STORM forecasts more incident categories with higher spatial and temporal accuracy than was previously possible,” Mr Condon said.

Digital twins proved to be the hot topic for 2020, with AVEVA’s Strategic Account Manager – Water, Paul Banfield, delving into the major hurdles to success for utilities looking to implement the technology.

“The digital twin can predict the potential failures of its physical counterpart well before they happen and can suggest ways to prevent those failures – but there is a potential flaw,” Mr Banfield said.

“The digital twin can only be as good as the detailed data that it is built on, combined with the real-time data it gathers. It also requires accurate contextual information and real-life understanding of the system, area, units and rooms in which it exists. Only then can the twin represent the true ‘as-operated’ state that the business can trust.”

Matt Rennie, Oceania Power and Utilities Leader at EY, rounded off day one of the event with a forward-thinking presentation titled Not a time for perfection, exploring the challenges and opportunities present in the energy transition. Mr Rennie also highlighted the lack of action taken to make Australia the global vanguard of new energy, despite its abundance of natural resources.

“Voltaire once wrote that ‘perfection is the enemy of good’ – Australian energy policy has had neither. Over the past 15 years, as the early embers of technological and customer-driven change began to simmer through the industry, energy policy in Australia has veered from the reactive to the counterproductive,” Mr Rennie said.

“Time has now shifted against us, and Australia finds itself lined up as one of the first global countries to experience the energy transition, with grid parity for batteries expected in 2021 and EV/combustion engine parity in 2024.

“This is a time of challenge for our regulators and policymakers, which stand at the cusp of a maturity curve like never before. New funding compacts, new branches of cooperation and new approaches to attracting and retaining human capital are required. Will they meet the challenge? The energy transition depends on it.”

Genuine discussion on key issues

Lucia Cade, Chair at South East Water, commenced day two proceedings with her domestic keynote presentation Digital transformation: the boardroom perspective.

“Technology plays a vital role in enabling South East Water to bring value to its customers and community, so we are always thinking ahead and implementing new digital solutions in our network to help create a better world for our customers,” Ms Cade said.

Ms Cade focused on how South East Water is harnessing and inventing digital technologies to stay ahead of challenges like climate change and population growth to make its customers’ experience better and to provide fair and affordable services – all while minimising its impact on the environment.

This was followed by a panel discussion featuring Katherine Gee, Executive Manager of Customer and Community at Unitywater; Matt Grantham, Head of Strategy and Business Development at Billcap; Neil Horrocks, Director at the University of Queensland’s
Centre for Energy Data Innovation; and Aaron Everingham, Country Manager Australia and New Zealand at Quadient.

This panel looked at the impact of digital transformation on people, exploring how utilities can create a digital culture and use data analytics to enhance service quality, lower costs, and preserve and deepen customer relationships.

This was followed by an individual presentation, Situational awareness and the operational twin, from Zoltan Borbas, Industry Consultant at Hexagon PPM, who discussed how utilities could transform unstructured information into a smart digital asset to visualise, build and manage structures and facilities of all complexities, ensuring safe and efficient operation throughout the entire lifecycle.

“Fusing the real world with the digital world is at our core,” Mr Borbas said.

Processes panelDelegates also heard from Angela Lam, Manager Information Technology at Horizon Power; Paul Siemers, Manager – Digital Strategy, Architecture and Innovation, Information Technology at Melbourne Water; Michael Joffe, Energy and Utilities Industry Lead at Publicis Sapient Australia; Mark McCormack, Group Manager Digital Utility Program at South East Water; and Tyson Hackwood, Head of Growth at Monoova as part of a panel discussion focused on processes.

This panel explored how utilities can transition from legacy systems and manual operations to more streamlined digital processes, and the convergence of IT and OT as a critical component of digital transformation.

In her presentation, Your digital twin: what could possibly go wrong?, Anna Murray, Senior Account Director, Engineering, Construction and Infrastructure at IFS Australia, explained that the key to the success of your digital twin is to make sure that your processes are data driven rather than document driven.

“You don’t want all that hard won, critical asset data to sit in yet another silo of dark data. Structured asset information needs to flow directly into the systems used to build and manage it,” Ms Murray said.

“Without integrating your digital twins into existing enterprise solutions and processes, these transformational technologies will create data silos unto themselves and the organisation will struggle to achieve asset management efficiencies.”

Justin Parr-Davies, Partner & APJ Head of OT & IoT Security, Cybersecurity & Risk Services at Wipro then went on to talk about why a unified approach to IT and OT cybersecurity is critical to achieving cyber resilience in utilities as they take up the challenge of Industry 4.0.

“Industry 4.0 digital transformation programs require consideration of the digital processes, systems, machinery and objects that could be impacted with the convergence of IT, OT and IoT,” Mr Parr-Davies said.

“Industry 4.0 provides one of the greatest increases in cyber risk to business over the last 50 years and will directly impact utilities and other areas of critical infrastructure.”

The event ended with a session from independent technology consultancy, Isle Utilities, who went beyond the buzzwords to explore the real impact and strategic implementation of digital technologies. Delegates had the opportunity to meet a range of innovators and learn how emerging technologies can provide practical value to utility organisations.

The featured technologies included:

  • Kieran Mackenzie, Founder/Chief Executive Officer at Presien, demonstrated Toolbox Spotter, an artificial intelligence computer vision system optimised for heavy industries
  • Glyn Addicott, Operations Director at Hydraulic Analysis Group Limited, demonstrated VariSim, a dynamic, real-time pressure transient simulator for water networks
  • Chad Moulden, Commercial Lead (Australia) at Open Energi, demonstrated Dynamic Demand 2.0, demand-side response technology that reduces the cost of delivering and consuming power
  • Matt Smith, Chief Executive Officer at MyPass Global, demonstrated MyPass, a digital workforce management platform that connects all of industry – workers, training organisations, service providers and end users

Major Sponsors, GHD Digital and DXC Technology, and Sponsors, BidEnergy and Amazon Web Services, are also helping accelerate digital transformation in the utility industry through their innovative product and service offerings.

That’s not all folks

Digital communications, video conferencing and remote working have fast become the new normal, and the two-day digital conference is just the beginning for Digital Utilities 2020.

There will be a live Digital Utilities event later in the year once circumstances allow, where the winners of the 2020 Digital Utility Awards will be announced and celebrated.

Unfortunately, several speakers were not able to take part in the online conference because of the COVID-19 crisis – either due to illness or their involvement in coordinating emergency responses to ensure the delivery of essential services to all Australians. These speakers will have the opportunity to participate in the live event so delegates can still benefit from their insights.

All delegates and supporters have also received an invitation to an exclusive online networking group, which will work actively to facilitate social networking between utility professionals until they can meet in the real world again.

This will help create a Digital Utilities community that will extend beyond the event and open up real communication possibilities in a more digitised world.

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

©2024 Utility Magazine. All rights reserved


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