Representatives from Australia’s major water and energy utilities gathered in Melbourne in April to discuss the impact of digital disruption on the utility sector and learn how to embrace emerging technologies and be fearless in the face of innovation.

Digital Utilities 2018 was held from 19-20 April at the Pullman Hotel in Albert Park, Melbourne, providing members of the utility community with an opportunity to learn from the industry’s best, network with clients and colleagues, and discover the latest digital tools and technologies needed to accelerate and transform their organisations.

Bentley Systems, a global software development company that supports the professional needs of those responsible for creating and managing the world’s critical infrastructure, was the event partner, and ABB, a pioneering technology leader in electrification products, robotics and motion, industrial automation and power grids, was the event major sponsor.

The expert speaker line-up was spearheaded by two keynotes – Stuart Hartley, Sector Leader – Power and Utilities APAC, EY, and Susan Heath, Chief Information Officer, Queensland Urban Utilities.

Mr Hartley’s keynote presentation, Are we at the tipping point to digitally reimagining the future utility?, kicked off day one of the conference.

According to Mr Hartley, technological disruption is moving so fast that many utilities are struggling to prioritise the right investments and deal with new risks such as new competitors, cyber security and shifting demand patterns.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding these changes, Mr Hartley said there’s never been a more exciting time for the utilities sector to adopt technology to transform energy services.

“Innovation around renewables, battery storage, electric vehicles, as well as advances in niche digital innovation including artificial intelligence, IoT (internet of things) and mobility create unprecedented opportunities to capture new revenues and drive productivity.”

Susan Heath’s keynote presentation Queensland Urban Utilities’ digital transformation journey provided the opening for day two of the conference.

According to Ms Heath, having an Innovation Program encourages staff to contribute bold, new ideas to improve business operations, and supports the integration of new digital transformation initiatives.

“This appetite for exploring new digital opportunities has led to an involvement in the hack community, which has seen bright minds in our community develop technology-focused solutions to challenges facing the water and wastewater industry,” Ms Heath said.

Ms Heath also highlighted the use of technology to foster a more digitally enabled workforce and the importance of data and real-time information in establishing more predictive operations.

Utilities explore the benefits of digitisation

Luke Skinner, Head of Network Technologies at Citipower and Powercor, talked about how smart meters are allowing Victorian network businesses to use artificial intelligence and analytics to support the transforming electricity grid.

“Victoria’s foresight in rolling out the technology almost a decade ago has provided distribution businesses with better insights into what’s happening on the network and support grid stability,” Mr Skinner said.

“This technology has allowed CitiPower and Powercor to devise demand response initiatives that have pushed innovation boundaries and helped reduce pressure on the grid.”

Brock Tunnicliffe, Customer Compliance Officer at City West Water explained how how virtual reality presents an exciting opportunity for the water industry to enhance and augment the way it plans and designs new assets and undertakes staff training.

“By using 3D CAD models, operators and field workers who may not be able to read complex plans effectively, can now visually audit and inspect plans in a virtual environment providing an effective methodology at finding defects and hazards present in the design stage of a project,” Mr Tunnicliffe said.

Brett Millington, Flagship Program Director at Intelligent Water Networks, discussed the importance of finding better ways to manage and integrate data, so as to assist water corporations in making sensible and cost effective asset investment and business decisions.

“Big data and analytics have become a real focus that can improve customer service, business processes, asset management and field operations, making water corporations efficient ‘digital utilities’.”

Panel discussions stimulate debate

The second day of Digital Utilities 2018 featured four panel sessions, split into morning and afternoon streams. At the end of each session, delegates had the opportunity to ask questions, which led to some lively discussions on the topics.

The stream, Using digital technologies to improve customer relationships, featured Toby Evans, Senior Manager of Digital Transformation at SA Water; Paul Loftus, Head of Customer Sales at Powershop and Cate Hilliard, Manager, IT Capital Portfolio at SA Power Networks sharing their insights into better ways of managing customer relationships and shaping digitisation around the needs of the customer.

During the other morning stream, delegates heard from Helen Millicer, President at the Alternative Technology Association; Mottel Gestetner, Business Development and Transactions at ARENA and Joshua Lowndes, Asset Management Engineer at Pacific Hydro for a panel session titled The role of renewables in our digital future.

This panel explored the role that new generation technologies, such as solar, battery storage,
pumped hydro etc, will play for utilities in the future and the importance of digital technologies in the transition to a low carbon future.

With the significant amount of data now being collected thanks to new digital technologies, the afternoon stream Achieving cyber security resilience in a digital environment was a key point of interest for many delegates.

Ian McKenzie, General Manager, IT Operations at Jemena; Sven Bluemmel, Victorian Information Commissioner, and Jarrod Loidl, Cybersecurity and Technology Risk Leader at Rapid7, discussed how utilities can ensure their data is only used to benefit themselves and their customers, as well as how to build high-performing security teams and a security culture within an organisation.

Delegates also spoke highly of the Modernising the network for the digital age stream, comprised of Frank Tudor, Managing Director at Horizon Power; Joe Locandro, Chief Digital and Technology Officer at the Australian Energy Market Operator; Peter Tickler, Digital Innovation and Advisory Leader at ERM Power and Andrew Fraser, Network Innovation Team Leader at TasNetworks.

During this session, the panelists considered the role of the grid for digital energy utilities, how to achieve network stability, effective investment in disruptive technologies, and data driven decision-making and asset management.

The Super Panel, featuring seven key speakers from across the two days, wrapped up the conference and offered a ‘big picture’ view of all the topics covered.

Forging industry connections

Digital Utilities 2018 allowed delegates several opportunities to network and get to know other members of the utility community.

ultiple speed networking sessions provided delegates with introductions to colleagues and other industry professionals. These formal sessions were in addition to the numerous opportunities to connect with other attendees during the networking lunches, tea breaks and drinks.

Exhibitors from digital and technology related companies were also on hand to showcase the latest innovations in the sector and were able to provide delegates with advice on how to integrate digital solutions within their organisation.

One of the main highlights of the event was the Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony honouring the winners of the inaugural Digital Utility Awards which you can read about here. Many delegates arrived at the Grand Ballroom to enjoy an evening of fun and celebration.

The inaugural Digital Utilities 2018 was an engaging event and delegates were left with plenty of tools and advice to move their organisations into the digital age. The second annual Digital Utilities event will be held again in the first half of 2019 – keep reading Utility in print and online so you can stay up to date with all the details as they are announced.

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