According to recent research, 50% of the current utility staff will be retiring over the next couple of years and this is potentially a good thing.
The thinking is that humans tend to rely on old models of understanding to assess new technology or ideas. The same premise could then be applied to our ability to assess the potential for artificial intelligence in the utility sector. This means that instead of just seeing artificial intelligence as a way to improve data analysis, new blood (or new hires) in the utility sector will bring new ways of thinking.
According to the research by Zpryme and Asha Labs, this is good because artificial intelligence is already changing the way companies engage with consumers to create a myriad of personalised experiences – and this technology could be translated to the utility sector as well.
For instance, National Grid may sign a partnership with Google's DeepMind to use artificial intelligence to balance energy supply and demand in Britain.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Demis Hassabis, DeepMind’s chief executive said: "It would be amazing if you could save 10% of the country’s energy usage without any new infrastructure, just from optimisation. That’s pretty exciting.”
Previously DeepMind's machine learning algorithms helped cut electricity usage at Google’s data centres by 15%. The FT reported that: "The smart algorithms were able to predict load on the data centres’ cooling systems and control equipment more efficiently, resulting in a 40% reduction in the amount of energy used for cooling. Analysts estimate that could translate to savings of hundreds of millions of dollars for Google over several years."
In non-utility examples, Amazon uses artificial intelligence "to predict what products users will buy and, in a feat of impressive operational efficiency, pre-deliver it to a location close to the user. This enables same-day delivery."
Just think what this could mean for the utility industry!
However, the research would indicate that for utilities to fully embrace these options, they need to invest in 'forward-looking' employees who are open to change and more importantly, who understand the technologies.
"An employee-driven culture of innovation will enable the technological revolution that personalises pricing for the customer, all the while improving the operational efficiency of delivering reliable, safe and cost-effective power. These new employees, and their perception and consequent interests, will cut across the traditional demographic profiles."
As utility staff start reaching retirement age, there is an opportunity to open up the traditionally conservative doors to a new type of thinking and a new talent pool.
“Hiring as usual won't cut it," says Zpryme's Seyi Fabode. "How can we attract the talent that makes the utility industry exciting again? Talent that moves the industry from chasing to leading the customer empowerment revolution?”
Partly this is done by speaking the same language as this new generation of talent. Partly, it’s by developing an expanded vision of the future of the utility sector and transforming the perception that the industry is not an exciting place to work or innovate.