Utility Crisis Management: COVID-19

I feel a little like a groupie. Strange thing to say, I know, but in preparation for our Utility Crisis Management: COVID-19 global webinar series, I have been privileged to speak with some amazing utility teams, who are working under extremely difficult situations with motivation and a single goal – to keep delivering.

From Asia (yesterday) to Europe (today);  North America (8 April) and finally to Africa (9 April) we have heard tales of teams choosing to go into a full three-week lockdown on-site in order to keep a generation plant running, payment holidays and a moratorium on cutting off services, and utilising technology to automate as many functions as possible; as utilities around the world are responding to the pandemic with swift, decisive action.

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Yesterday we spoke with Rajesh Bansal, Senior Executive Vice President and Head of Network Operations, BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd (Delhi) and Frank Thiel, Managing Director, Quezon Power Ltd Co. (Philippines) about the measures their utilities are taking to manage the health of their employees and the expectations of their consumers. Ravi Krishnaswamy, Senior Vice President-Industrial Practice Asia Pacific, Frost & Sullivan (Singapore), shared his insights as an industry insider and commentator.

Thiel shared how they have had to implement different strategies for the various offices the utility has, and this was echoed by Bansal, who said that BSES have focussed on keeping critical operations functional and staffed while leaving less critical operations – such as name changes – to be dealt with at a later stage. Thiel, whose generation team is under full lockdown on the plant they run, shared some of the measures undertaken to ensure their safety, including sterilisation of workstations at the beginning and end of each 12-hour shift, sterilisation of any tools coming into the plant and an embargo on any non-essential staff on site. Coal deliveries are undertaken as normal for this coal fired power plant, but crews are not allowed to disembark, nor is there any engagement with those undertaking delivery of any other critical equipment. In both cases, support staff are working from home and motivation and morale have remained high, despite the dire circumstances.

Thiel remarked that they had planned for many different scenarios, and undertaken multiple typhoon simulations, but never had they envisaged a situation like this. This is a comment echoed yesterday by a utility in Italy, which remarked that they were writing their playbook for pandemic response as the situation develops. I imagine this is the case around the world.

In all situations, the implications on cash flow and longer-term financial stability are likely to be painful as governments give consumers payment holidays while utilities augment pay for those in critical posts and continue on full pay for all support services. Yet, Bansal says he believes that the level of consideration, understanding and cooperation with consumers has never been higher.

When asked what changes brought about by the current situation they would like to see become permanent, the list included a bigger focus on flexitime and more opportunities to work from home for those for whom it was feasible, increased use of platforms for virtual meetings in order to avoid unnecessary travel for business meetings and even a hope that the focus on ROI for investments into equipment will shift to a focus on reliability first.

Silos between departments are being broken down and new levels of understanding and a need to work together are becoming the norm; blue skies across cities around the world are highlighting in a way never before possible the impact of pollution and the need to push the boundaries of climate change initiatives. Technology is showing how it too can facilitate and support operations under even the most extreme circumstances.

Join us for the remainder of our journey across the world’s utility sector as we work to share and understand the responses being undertaken to ensure optimal service delivery. Sign up for the upcoming webinars here or follow this link to listen to the webinar already aired here.

Do you have a story you’d like to share about how you are responding in the circumstances? We’d love to hear from you – contact us at editorial@smart-energy.com 

Until next time

Thank you to the selfless utility teams out there! We salute you.

Utilities in the power and energy sector have had to rapidly implement coping mechanisms and strategies to protect staff, customers and their bottom line.

Join our series of live virtual discussions where we bring you the best insights from key utilities around the world who are dealing with the challenge of COVID-19 in an age of social distancing and isolation.