Utilities should keep track of coronavirus responses; here are some places and tips for doing that
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- May 11, 2020 9:10 pm GMT
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No one knows for sure how much the novel coronavirus is evolving as it spreads across the globe, but responses to it are evolving daily.
As a result, how electric distribution utilities deal with those responses needs to evolve just as rapidly. That doesn’t mean utilities need to constantly change their courses of action based on the latest news, but it does mean they need to keep track of the latest developments and adjust their policies accordingly.
To help utilities do that, the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners has partnered with other industry groups on a webpage that lists the actions each state has taken with regards to utilities due to the pandemic.
The page, which is updated daily, contains summaries of the latest action taken by each state and links to the source document for each action. It also highlights recent actions so they can be easily spotted.
The Electric Subsector Coordinating Council, meanwhile, has developed a resource guide in response to the pandemic. It has updated the guide seven times, releasing the most recent version on April 27. The latest edition updates the section dealing with how utilities provide mutual assistance to each other based on lessons learned from a series of storms in late March and the first two weeks of April. It also contains an executive summary of work under way for dealing with returning to more normal conditions as social distancing requirements are relaxed.
On a larger scale, Federal Energy Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee has directed FERC staff to plan a technical conference for June or July looking at the pandemic’s long-term effects on the energy industry.
Topics discussed at the conference could include cybersecurity, workforce issues, supply chain considerations, deferred maintenance and the next steps energy companies need to take in returning to normal operations, among other things.
Consulting firms also have dispensed advice to help electric distribution utilities keep their operations on track during the pandemic.
Utilities “may need to build added flexibility into the already robust business-continuity capabilities they have demonstrated during past emergencies,” accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers writes on a webpage called, “COVID-19: What it means for the power and utilities industry.”
Utilities also need to plan for the possibility of what PwC calls “a double whammy situation,” such as a natural disaster striking their service territory while the pandemic is ongoing. If that occurs, the traditional methods utilities have used to deal with disasters, such as calling upon workers from other utilities to provide assistance, will need to be tweaked to account for the pandemic.
“The industry is accustomed to relying on mutual aid assistance when resources are needed,” PwC wrote. “However, there’s the possibility that typical partners may not have available capacity to help.”
To deal with that, PwC suggests utilities should “put risk mitigation programs in place for employees who need to work in large gatherings at a common worksite (e.g., both existing and enlisted field and construction crews).”
The pandemic also could expose utilities to cyberthreats, PwC says, “because workers will have significantly higher levels of remote access to core systems, and because employees and management could be more susceptible to social engineering efforts in the midst of a crisis.”
The firm offers a number of tips that utilities can use to deal with them, including reminding “employees about being suspicious of emails from unfamiliar sources to prevent successful phishing and business email compromise;” strengthening their perimeters by “using security tools to identify and deflect threats before bad actors can intrude;” and strengthening their “remote access management policy and procedures.”
In “Understanding the sector impact of COVID-19,” Deloitte says the pandemic may put “strains on the workforce, such as a shortage of engineers or restrictions on the movement of personnel, [which] may create a new wave of operational challenges.”
To help deal with that, Deloitte says, utility executives and boards should be asking themselves how they can guarantee the safety and well-being of their company’s people and what else they can do to support their customers and suppliers, among other things.
And, looking to the future, they should be seeing if some of the systems they’ve put in place to deal with the pandemic merit being kept on after the pandemic ebbs because they enable more efficient ways of working.