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COVID-19 and WFH Digital Solutions for Energy Utilities

Continuing Our Energy Progress

For more than a decade, the energy industry has responded to various external pressures with creativity and agility. Utilities and other energy providers are adapting through major transformation in digital capabilities, clean energy mandates, and climate impacts. COVID-19 is the newest challenge we are navigating together. Working from a culture of innovation, the energy industry is implementing valuable digital solutions to keep us moving forward. The following are just a few examples of solutions helping the industry keep working today.

Utilities Working from Home
While the move to more remote, flexible work from home (WFH) environments has been under way for some time, COVID-19 has accelerated the shift. Utilities in particular are challenged to provide customers with the same level of service through a disrupted, dispersed workforce with limitations on remote access to critical IT/OT systems. Yet utilities are stepping up, exploring better remote access to systems, asynchronous work routines, and greater cybersecurity to empower their teams.

Our current situation is prompting utilities to take a hard look at expanding the definition of resiliency to include hardening and agility for IT/OT assets, not just physical assets. You may be interested to explore recommendations from TRC’s CIO, CISO and Digital Solutions team on utility WFH solutions – including practical tips for what to “Do Now” versus “Do Later” to help ensure utility resiliency.

Virtual Inspections and Audits
Building/site inspections and audits are a cornerstone of most large-scale energy efficiency programs—as well as many broader efforts around energy research, technology demonstration, and distributed energy solutions. Inspections and audits not only identify potential projects but are also a crucial verification step prior to paying incentives to customers and contractors who have projects underway. The COVID-19 health situation requires a new approach, to avoid halting projects and to minimize building owners’ risk.

Virtual Audit

TRC, along with our clients and their building owner customers, has embraced a creative new virtual approach. Today, we are working with a dozen clients across the US to inspect and audit buildings from afar, using options as simple as Skype and Facetime to more sophisticated systems. Whatever the technology, the goal is to keep projects on track and support essential operations. This approach fulfills regulatory compliance requirements and utilities and agencies find the positive customer reaction to be a huge benefit, particularly around the incentive check.

Workforce Training
As many at home with school-aged children know now through personal experience, learning must go on! The same holds true for the energy industry. Organizations of all types are moving forums online – allowing people to continue learning and networking despite physical distancing. This includes industry trade organizations like the Peak Load Management Alliance (PLMA), which is offering their 41st conference in April online for free. Similarly, organizations like the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP) are also offering a variety of free webinars. We are impressed by the generosity organizations are bringing to our energy community to advance important industry learning and conversations.

Utilities and agencies are also adapting their state and local workforce training efforts, ensuring that we emerge from this health situation with the energy experts needed to achieve aggressive efficiency, decarbonization, and renewable energy goals. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is one unique example as they have been focused on clean energy workforce development for more than 15 years and are now making important adaptations in light of COVID-19. TRC is honored to support NYSERDA as they modify their on-the-job training and clean energy internship programs to expand the time funding is available to the public, review options to increase reimbursement amounts, allow companies to support participating workers on adjusted schedules and shift some internships online.

Difficult times call for out-of-the-box solutions and we are inspired to see how the energy industry is adapting amidst COVID-19. We look forward to exchanging new ideas and solutions with our clients, partners, and industry colleagues as we all do our part in the collective mission to support communities and energy reliability during this time.

Paul David, Andrea Thompson, Casey Novak, and Laura Giannini contributed to this article.

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