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From 21–23 June, the Digital Utilities 2022 event brought together industry leaders from across Australia’s utility sector for three virtual conferences exploring how we can create efficient and secure future grids and engage customers in the new digital era. Here are the key pieces of advice from the event’s 20 expert speakers who work in some of the largest and most innovative utilities in the country. 

Digital Utilities 2022 featured three unique virtual conferences: Future Grids, Engaging Customers and Cyber Security. 

These conferences dived deep into how we can create the most efficient energy and water networks, especially as we integrate new technologies; how to keep these networks and assets secure from cyber attacks; and the latest insights into managing customer experience in the digital age. 

Digital Utilities is run by the team behind Utility, with the event essentially being an extension of the magazine and a chance for us to bring this content to a virtual format and have readers hear from experts and leaders in the utility industry. 

More than 400 utility professionals registered for the event to hear from the program of experts, featuring speakers from Powerlink, SA Water, Urban Utilities, Horizon Power, South East Water, Endeavour Energy, Goulburn Valley Water, Jemena, Greater Western Water, Energy Queensland, Coliban Water, The Energy Charter, Iota, EY Oceania Cybersecurity and Flinders University.

The event was also sponsored by three industry leading companies whose involvement helped support the delivery of the event – the Future Grids Major Sponsor Iota, the Engaging Customers Session Partner Sense and the Cyber Security Panel Sponsor Madison Group.

Predictions for our future grids 

The first conference, Future Grids, looked specifically at the evolution of energy and water networks as we begin to integrate new technologies, and the challenges and opportunities this creates. 

Keynote speaker Mark Pozdena, General Manager of Business IT, Powerlink looked at the foundations for a successful digital future and the work that Powerlink is undertaking in its own digital transformation.

Mark said the energy industry is changing and this requires companies to change as well. Utilities need to determine what is needed in order to meet future needs of the organisation, and right now, that means having access to the right information in order to perform their roles efficiently and safely. 

He said data is at the core of decision making in a modern digital environment, but there are challenges around legacy systems, with decades of unplanned integration and conflicting sources of ‘truth’. 

Mark identified six large-scale programs of investment at Powerlink, including Next Generation network ops, field delivery optimisation, ERP (SAP) transformation, strategic data, digital engineering and information security management.

He also identified that two of the biggest risks that occur when undertaking this work are cyber security and skills shortages. Cyber security is the biggest risk to critical infrastructure and essential services, while current skills shortages are impacting all industries and digital programs.

Mark said the key to the utility’s success has been its people; as digital transformation is not just about the technology. Powerlink’s employees know its business operations, processes and systems inside and out, understand the data, are trusted to tell management if something isn’t right, and are invested in the utility’s success.

Representing the water sector and its networks was Amanda Lewry, General Manager of Sustainable Infrastructure at SA Water who talked about SA Water’s water mains condition assessment strategy and the digitisation of water networks. 

Amanda detailed how the utility digitised its network in Adelaide’s CBD and deployed smart sensors that allowed for proactive repairs and acoustic leak detection monitoring. 

SA Water’s $155 million investment in maintaining and improving water mains and growing the use of smart technology between 2022 and 2024 has already contributed to a downward trend in water main breaks across the network. 

The conference also saw Ray Achemedei, General Manager Technology and Digital Transformation at Horizon Power presenting on the utility’s digitalisation journey to becoming a utility of the future, reflecting on how it is rethinking change management to deliver better solutions for employees, customers, and communities.

Picking up the themes around people that Mark mentioned earlier, Ray challenged delegates to actually think about digital transformation as change management. He gave some great advice to utilities on this journey revolving around building executive level support from the beginning, understanding the technology deeply, creating a game plan while still preparing to be agile, and realising the changes in company culture. 

Future Grids also featured a jam-packed industry panel with three speakers discussing the topic of enhancing grids for a smart, connected utility future. Panellists included Shaun Nesbitt, Chief Digital and Information Officer, Urban Utilities; Marie Jordan, Executive General Manager – Network, Transgrid; and Ash Vesali, Director of Commercialisation, Iota. 

This was an exciting panel, with both the energy and water sectors represented and realising the similarities in the challenges and opportunities available. We also caught Marie at a time when she was heavily involved in dealing with Australia’s current energy crisis which added a unique perspective to the conversation. 

Our panellists covered a broad range of topics, from current challenges, to innovative technologies and digital processes, alleviating pressures on the grid, global comparisons, the biggest mistake utilities are making, impacts of climate change, future skills needed, and much more. 

Panellist Ash from Iota also had a fresh perspective on these topics, as Iota is a genuine partner to the water industry. As a wholly owned subsidiary of a water utility, it understands the challenges facing water and wastewater providers. 

In particular, it understands the unique challenges associated with trialling and adopting new technologies in a sector that must innovate, while not compromising its role as an essential service provider. 

Iota’s digital solutions are developed and proven by water, for water, with a portfolio of technologies that it actively incubates, productises and commercialises to de-risk digital investments for the global water sector. 

Its portfolio is predominantly sourced from South East Water as it undertakes its own research and development activities and goes through its digital utility transformation. But Iota is also commercialising intellectual property from other sources and is open to any game-changing innovation with potential for material asset, environmental or customer impact. You can learn more about Iota by visiting www.iotaservices.com.au.

Changes to the utility-customer relationship 

Day two was all about customer experience and engagement at the Engaging Customers conference. There’s been a big shift in the needs and expectations of customers and the conference explored what this means for both water and energy utilities. 

Keynote Leanne Pickering, Chief Customer and Strategy Officer at Endeavour Energy presented on using distributed energy resources to give customers control and how the utility is working smarter to meet its customers’ needs. 

While providing context to the changing energy landscape, Leanne also outlined a few different key programs and technologies having the most impact, including residential demand management (DM) program PowerSavers; peer to peer trading, electric vehicles, community batteries, as well as microgrids, including ones at Bawley Point and Kioloa on the New South Wales coast. 

Representing customer engagement in the water sector was Tony Wulff, General Manager – Digital & Innovation at Goulburn Valley Water, who discussed developing a digital strategy in partnership with customers. 

Tony gave some great practical advice and case studies on the work being done at Goulburn Valley Water. He covered everything from its outcomes strategy and digital delivery principles to EcoSystem design and data driven value propositions.  

We were also joined by Mikala Hehir, General Manager Customer and Community at South East Water; Rebecca Kardos, CEO Council Chair at The Energy Charter; and Josh Pell, Program Manager – Customer and Digital Systems at Coliban Water, for the industry panel Elevating customer service with new technology. 

This panel explored how customer needs have evolved over the last few years and how the utility-customer relationship has changed, what successful customer engagement looks like, digital programs and initiatives currently improving customer experience, industry collaboration, the role of trust in the relationship between energy companies and their customers, and digital smart metres and IoT platforms, among many other topics. 

The topic of digital smart metres was also covered by the Engaging Customers Session Partner Sense, with Michael Jary, International Managing Director at Sense, presenting on how artificial intelligence at the grid edge can access domestic flexibility and accelerate the energy transition. 

Sense said that to fix climate change, we need to decarbonise generation and electrify consumption, but to do that we must control demand in the home. So, what’s the solution? 

With Artificial Intelligence (AI) running on smart meters, we may have an answer. AI can help detect device usage in real time. Instantly, consumers and suppliers are shown, at any moment, what appliances are on and how much power they are each using. 

Consumers can be given precise guidance on what to turn off, turn down, or sometimes turn up, making it easy to act, whether it’s responding to a demand peak event or time of use tariff. The average home shifts 0.3KW off the peak. If deployed to 10m homes in Australia, that would equate to 3GW off peak demand. That’s three large coal power stations. To learn more about AI on smart meters, please visit sense.com.

Keeping digital networks secure

We couldn’t possibly talk about digitising Australia’s utilities without taking a deep dive into the risks around cyber security, as it’s such a critical topic for the sector. 

The third conference, Cyber Security, expanded on the discussions of Future Grids and Engaging Customers, while looking specifically at the issue of cyber security and exploring the challenges utilities face in keeping their digital networks secure. 

In their keynote presentation, Richard Bergman, Partner, EY Oceania Cybersecurity and Matt Jones, Director, EY Oceania Cybersecurity co-presented on security of critical infrastructure legislation reforms. This was an informative presentation that contained key information that utilities around Australia need to be aware of to ensure they are meeting new requirements. 

Their presentation spanned the key government drivers behind expanding the legislation, the scope of the amendments and the additional critical sectors identified, the obligations required to maintain compliance, and the lessons learned from other critical sector organisations who have already commenced the roadmap to compliance.

Elena Sitnikova, Associate Professor in Cybersecurity and Networking at Flinders University also presented on critical infrastructure systems cybersecurity trends and challenges and provided in-depth information relating to IT and OT operations technologies and threats.

Some of key takeaways from Elena’s presentation were that it is actually more about cybersecurity strategy, tactics and risk management than technology, and that 75 per cent of OT security solutions will be delivered via multifunction platforms interoperable with IT security solutions by 2025. But if there was one thing to take away from her presentation, it was that if you don’t think your organisation is a target – it is!

The Cyber Security conference, and Digital Utilities as a whole, finished with a mega industry panel featuring four industry experts discussing the topic Utility cyber security: your people are your first line of defence. 

The panel was a fantastic way to wrap up the event and featured Marianne Vosloo, Executive General Manager, Digital at Energy Queensland; Anafrid Bennet, Interim Water Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and Head of IT & Security Operations, Greater Western Water; David Worthington, General Manager – Digital Security and Risk, Jemena; and Craig Scott, National Manager, Sales & Marketing, Madison Technologies.

These cyber experts were a wealth of knowledge and talked about everything from what their organisation’s cyber security teams look like, to utility cyber skills, specific technologies or digital processes helping protect assets, cyber awareness programs, what leadership should look like in this space, and the next generation of cyber security professionals. 

The panel was sponsored by Madison Group, who has a 30-year legacy of digitally transforming critical operational environments and is familiar with many of the challenges and opportunities the utilities industry faces as it migrates towards a more efficient, reliable, and interconnected infrastructure.

Madison’s experience developing and delivering robust communications and networking technology solutions for the utilities sector, combined with partnerships with some of the world’s leading technology brands, means it can provide leading communications solutions, services and security customers can rely on.

If you have questions about your digitisation journey, a Solutions Workshop with Madison Technologies will allow you to explore technology options that enable data for informed business decisions, in order to protect people, assets and the environment whilst maintaining productivity. For more information on Madison Technologies, please visit madison.tech. 

All of the presentations and panel sessions from Digital Utilities 2022 are available to watch on-demand for registered delegates. To register for free and gain access to the recordings, please visit www.digitalutilities.com.au.

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