At a time when the global energy industry is undergoing dramatic change, South Australia could very well be the epicenter of innovation.
The South Australian government just announced plans for a solar power plant that will generate up to 150MW of electricity by using thousands of giant mirrors to direct sunlight to the top of a 227-meter thermal tower.
And earlier this year, Elon Musk made headlines with the news that his company will help build the world’s largest lithium ion battery to store renewable energy in the state.
You can also see this kind of innovative thinking at SA Power Networks – the utility responsible for operating and maintaining the electricity distribution network for the entire state of South Australia.
How Do You Energize a Mobile Workforce?
“The Australian energy market is going through a huge amount of change,” says Chris Ford, Chief Information Officer at SA Power Networks. “And as a result, every element of our company is being transformed.” This transformation includes taking advantage of mobile technologies and real-time analytics to help meet not only the demands of an evolving energy market, but also the challenges of a very large service area.
SA Power Networks employees maintain a territory that encompasses 178,000 square kilometers of some of Australia’s driest and remotest landscapes. Summers often bring scorching heat and damaging wildfires to the region.
“Some of our people won’t be in the office for five or six days on the trot,” notes Charlie Hollis, Manager of Procurement at SA Power Networks.
But SA Power Networks is using mobile technology to simplify daily operations for these remote personnel and the home office employees who support them. A good example is how SA Power Networks approves purchase requisitions and the 30,000 purchase orders the utility generates every year.
“We use a mobile app that streamlines the entire procure-to-pay process,” says Melissa Maio, SA Power Networks’ Purchasing Team Lead. “Our managers and field personnel can approve requisitions and purchase orders from anywhere using their mobile device.”
Delivering High-Energy Data
SA Power Networks also customized a mobile app based on SAP Work Manager to allow field personnel to gather service interval information and data from asset inspections in real time. These assets include 400 zone substations, 73,000 street transformers, 720,000 power poles, and 200,000 km of wires.
Previously, this information was captured at the site on a pad of paper and then entered into SA Power Networks’ business systems when field personnel returned to the office. Only then could the data be analyzed and acted upon.
In fact, providing all employees with the information they need to make quicker and more accurate decisions is a hallmark of SA Power Networks’ IT strategy. The utility, for example, is now using the SAP HANA platform to perform advanced analytics on live data as well as historic and demographic data. Company leadership believes this insight will help them respond better to emergencies such as brushfires and storms and manage the overall network more effectively.
“Predictive analytics is really key to us moving forward,” says Ford. “We currently have pilots underway designed to help us predict exactly where we will need to repair lines in certain storm situations.”
A Look Ahead
Innovation continues to be a priority in the energy industry down under.
Australian news reports there are currently more than 50 large-scale renewable energy projects under construction across the country. And in South Australia, SA Power Networks is determined to keep pace with the progress.
“We have been looking at robotics and machine learning to identify areas where we might improve the efficiency of certain tasks even further,” says Ford, citing one final example.
One thing, however, isn’t changing.
Regardless of how the energy is generated, delivering electricity to the 1.7 million people of South Australia will remain the singular mission of SA Power Networks.
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Hear more from Chris Ford and the leaders of SA Power Networks in this video