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Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Welcome Scott Warner, New Expert in the Digital Utility Community

Posted to Energy Central in the Digital Utility Group

image credit: Energy Central

The past few years have ramped up the momentum for advances in digital technologies in the utility sector. The smart grid is no longer a vision for the future, but it’s happening in practice today. That said, there’s still a lot of work to do to install additional smart meters and associated hardware, maintaining the appropriate software and cybersecurity provisions that go along with it, and finding operational ways to maximize the impact of the digital utility.

As an industry right in the midst of this massive transformation, keeping up with the latest news, trends, and insights is inherently imperative. As an concerted effort to make sure the Energy Central Community is among the most informed and forward-looking anyway in the industry, we’re always looking to add the most respected thought leaders to our Energy Central Network of Experts. As a part of those efforts, we recently had the pleasure of welcoming Scott Warner of UDC Inc. to the Network of Experts, specifically to bring his expertise and knowledge of the digitalization of the energy sector to our Digital Utility Group.

To highlight what he’ll bring to the community, Scott sat with us for our Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’ Enjoy learning about his background and his vision for the digital future!

Matt Chester: Hi Scott-- thanks for doing this interview to introduce you to our community. Let's start broad-- how did you get involved with the utility sector? Was this a lifelong passion? And what do you find yourself doing in the utility space day-to-day today? 

Scott Warner: I started off my career in Chicago, where I was born, at a company that was mostly known for mapping for the local and federal governments, Chicago Aerial Survey.  They had just won a large contract with Southern Bell and were looking for many folks to work on that project.  So, my career actually started in the telephone business, and then I started to learn more about the utility business, both gas and electric.  Today, I find myself partnering with utility companies and other partners working to solve their business problems around GIS, or geographic information systems, and their downstream applications.

 

MC: Your list of utilities you've partnered with is impressive, from PG&E to National Grid to Exelon and more. When you start working with a new utility client, particularly when it comes to digital solutions, what do you look for to get an overview on their state of digitalization? Do you commonly find yourself surprised, whether  byhow advanced utilities are or by how far behind some may fall before you come in? 

SW: Each utility company finds themselves in a different state of digitalization and readiness for future advanced management applications.  What I find interesting is that each company, and many times each operating company, can be at different places technology-wise. My experience working with utilities has been that they have really intelligent people there at the utility company, and most of the time, I can listen to them about their current state and what the future might look like for them.  This provides the basis for building the solutions to help them achieve their vision. 

 

MC: Utility digitalization is already coming up against the edge of becoming a buzzword, but you know from working in the trenches that there’s so much more than hype here. What are some of the most impressive and transformative solutions you’ve seen implemented that demonstrate that unmatchable value of these trends?

SW: Many electric utilities are embracing ADMS technology and what it could mean for both the utility company as well as their customers.  A more reliable and energy efficient grid is on the horizon and ways to monitor this in real-time is exciting.  With more and more solar being utilized, monitoring the grid is an important aspect of what they will be looking at.  In addition to the ADMS technology, what will microgrids mean for the consumer?  Really fun time as utility companies work to use their vast amounts of data to support analytical decision making.

 

MC: Are there new initiatives that UDC is looking to implement on the horizon that you can give us a sneak peek at? What has you particularly excited over the course of the next year or two?

SW: UDC has two relatively new Digital Utility® solution offerings, Reliability Analysis and Digital Twin, that we see aligning with the Industry’s growing focus on streamlining grid edge management and that are a natural integration with AI. 

First, UDC’s Feeder Sentinel reliability analysis dashboard provides utilities the ability to monitor and report on feeder performance and behavior in an intuitive user interface that is accessible across the organization vs. the control panel of the ADMS. It gives the user subsection by subsection views corresponding with spatial capabilities of GIS.
 

UDC’s Feeder Sentinel Reliability Analysis dashboard displaying AMI events for a selected feeder

Second, our DyAN digital twin dashboards bring together the utility’s System of Record and System of Engagement for analysis and real-world application in the office, field and for customer communication. 

We are excited to begin to share stories from clients who are implementing and refining these solutions to improve real-time awareness of customer reliability, bring visualization to grid edge management and increase operational performance with preventative and predictive maintenance. Our client, Cleco Corporation, in Louisiana has developed three operational dashboards – Electric Outage, Historical Outage and Outage Reliability. We have outlined their digital twin project on our website and plan to follow-up on their experience with their outage analysis solution for enhanced storm event management.

Another initiative that we are excited to be involved with is GIS driven Enterprise Asset Management in terms of vegetation management for wildfire mitigation. We are currently working with several utilities in this area of high focus for our industry. 

 

MC: We’ve all gone more virtual and digital this year, at least to a certain extent. Have there been any digital opportunities that have come to light in 2020 that have surprised you? Or are there any virtual trends you expected to see once the world shifted more virtual (at least temporarily) that you were surprised not to come to fruition?

SW: I think the thing that has surprised me the most in the past year is the speed at which utilities have been able to digitally enable the enterprise. Utilities have always been leaders in the use of mobile technologies for field enablement dating back to the days of microwave communications and rudimentary mobile data terminals. Many of the platforms are quite dated and in need of a technology and architectural refresh. We certainly expected quite a bit of interest in this segment of the market, but the speed at which our customers are moving to embrace new digital technologies is quite impressive. I think this stems from the increased expectations that both customers and employees are placing upon the utility.  Both customers and employees are able to take advantage of these digital technologies on a day-to-day basis and this is setting an expectation within the utility as well.

Mobility platforms and ubiquitous communications set the stage for this transformation and newer technologies like LIDAR, high-res imagery, high accuracy GPS, and the use of drones are extending the amount and quality of data that is available to drive business value. 

With our own utility clients, we are seeing business transformation through the use of GIS-based office to field inspection applications that remove dependence on manual, paper-based processes and automate compliance management and reporting. In addition, our clients are using high-res imagery and LIDAR to perform compliance inspections, pole load assessment and address 3rd party attachments from within the office. LIDAR and GPS information are being used to align GIS to actual locations, and once housed within the utility’s GIS, these technology outputs become a reusable source of information. GIS users can follow the drone path to view assets from all the various angles of approach that were collected, including overhead, to gather additional information not identified within their original scope and that is now needed.

 

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Thanks to Scott Warner for joining me for this interview and for jumping feet first into the Energy Central community as an expert. Scott is available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see him across the platform.

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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