Evolving energy employees in an increasingly digital world must be an inclusive transition.
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Roberto Zangrandi, Secretary General of EDSO, says that evolving energy employees in an increasingly digital world must be an inclusive transition. By Nigel Blackaby

The energy sector is undergoing a profound transformation, with the transition towards a low-carbon economy both at European and at global level affecting energy producers, suppliers, consumers and traders alike.

This article was originally published in the Enlit Europe supplement of 
Smart Energy International Issue 5-2020.
Read the full supplement, the full digimag or subscribe to receive a print copy.

Arguably, the most critical asset for companies operating within the energy sector are the people who make up their workforce.

The energy transition and the deployment of digital technologies has seen the elimination of many job functions and the emergence of new ones as well as an enhanced need for training and re-skilling.

As I learned from speaking with Roberto Zangrandi, Secretary General of EDSO, the organisation representing European distribution system operators, one of the earliest sectors in the power system to experience this change was at the level of distribution system operators.

THE GRID IS ONE OF THE MOST SIMPLE CONCEPTS IN THE WORLD – BUT ALSO ONE OF THE MOST DELICATE SYSTEMS IN THE WORLD

Roberto Zangrandi

Nigel Blackaby: What first pushed the issues surrounding the workforce up the agenda for EDSO, and for your members?

Roberto Zangrandi: It is very simple. It is digitalisation and it started 20 years ago when a large electric operator, a former monopolist, Enel, in a large European country, Italy, brought to the market the first electronic metering device – the smart meter.

Enel has got over 30 million customers in Italy alone and had to replace all the electromechanical meters with these new generation distance-monitored and smart meters. On top of that, they suddenly realised that their people needed thorough, professional re-skilling in order to be able to replace the meters themselves.

But surprisingly, it was not just a matter of the right screwdriver and the right sequence of operation and the right cautiousness in handling electrical wires – it was a mental re-skilling.

It was a major shift in the mentality, bringing these people from our electromechanical background into an advanced digitalised notion. And that is still continuing and has been the same in every nation with every DSO that has been introducing smart meters from that moment on.

That is exactly what another large former monopolist in France, Enedis, is currently experiencing with the introduction of their Linky system, a very sophisticated, advanced generation of the meter, and Enel is installing its fourth generation meter right now.

Nigel Blackaby: What are the new skill sets that are needed in order to fill these roles and how easy is it to find that talent?

Roberto Zangrandi: First of all, these people are asked to understand the bigger picture and to see the larger implication of their job. If they do the job correctly and in an excellent way, those devices that they are installing are modernising the electric distribution system and will allow the consumer to take advantage of that.

So, it is not just a sequence of operations. It is the awareness of being part of a complex evolution that is taking place in the moment.

When you connect the smart meter to the system you enable a world behind and within this device – the possibility to connect to the appliances that you have at home; the possibility to register your own production of electricity should you have one; the possibility of extracting the best accurate possible data out of this meter; and the possibility for the consumer to monitor their own electrical behaviour and habits.

It is about being part of the system that allows the consumer to become an active market participant. Of course, it’s not just the meter that is enough for this, but the meter is the basic piece of technology that enables the citizen to become a part of the energy transition.

And the system behind this is, and will continue to be, deeply affected by the strong digitalisation that is required in order to better integrate renewable sources of energy with traditional sources and with the distributed generation of clean energy.

We are so strongly committed to this that we are participating in the most advanced re-skilling consortium in Europe, called EDDIE (Education for Digitalisation of Energy). It is about a new education to develop the energy transition with digitalisation and it comprises both professionals and students.

EDSO is managing one of the work packages of this project and it is developing a concept for an academy for improved instruction and training of employees. Because do not forget, the spending of larger DSOs in training, retraining and improving the performance of their people amounts to hundreds of millions of euros a year.

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Nigel Blackaby: We talk about a ‘Just Transition’, but is it possible to retrain everybody or do we have to accept that some people are going to be left behind?

Roberto Zangrandi: It is a re-training that becomes automatic with the evolution of the grids. There will not be any DSO that will give up on re-training and re-skilling which enable its activity to develop. Of course, you will have some companies that will be faster. But since the transition is a pervasive concept, every DSO will have to face re-training anyway. No, there will not be anybody left behind.

And I don’t see any anybody in our sector choosing to ‘stay behind’. It’s like the evolution of the credit card or bank card for cashless payments. It was quite difficult at the beginning and there were early adopters, but now it is universal… It is the same thing, once you see the benefits of that kind of progress – which is digitalisation – then you go for it.

Nigel Blackaby: What would you describe as the most important attribute required for somebody who wants to come into the energy sector? What would you be looking for from tomorrow’s DSO engineer or employee?

Roberto Zangrandi: Energy has always been seen as an attractive job sector and it is becoming even more attractive because you can experiment, and the result of the experiment is immediate. What you propose as a technician or an engineer can dramatically improve the performance of a grid.

The grid is one of the most simple concepts in the world – but also one of the most delicate systems in the world. So every improvement and every addition, or even subtraction, can change and improve the management of the grid itself and the system as a whole. And the challenges are daily – this is the exciting part.

And the other exciting part is that the new generation of technicians, engineers and other employees must consider the role of artificial intelligence and other digitalised tools at their disposal.

EDSO is one of the Industry Partners of Enlit Europe. To find out more about the Industry Partners, click here.