Training Simulations in Utilities: Changing Needs for An Evolving World

The utilities industry is changing – fast, with new technologies pushing to the forefront that are designed to meet an increasingly sophisticated customer base. Let’s see how that looks and ways utilities can evolve and adapt along with their clientele!

Interactive Portable Training
Time of Transformation
High-tech digital advances have become the new normal for consumers in this online age. This presents both challenges and opportunities for utilities.

With an increasing concern around our carbon footprint, customers want – and demand – innovations that give them more control over their power consumption and help them monitor overall energy/resource usage.

Beyond that, “severe weather events continue to drive utilities to improve their response and recovery capabilities”

For example, in response to the California wildfires, regulators have worked with utilities on a new operating and regulatory model that enables utilities to curtail power when winds exceed specified speeds in order to reduce the risk of equipment potentially contributing to wildfires. 1

Creating these technologies – speaking to ecological and safety concerns is one thing, having internal staff trained in the intricacies of each is another. And it’s a cost center that can be significant, with how rapidly changes are happening, particularly as one can only expect that rate to increase as technology continues to advance.

So, although operational efficiencies can drastically increase ROI, keeping technicians up to speed with these changes is no small task.

And then there are also niche competitors encroaching on various segment markets to keep in mind.

Niche Competitors & Integrated Utility Services (IUS)
“Behind-the-meter generation systems” offer new energy options for households, including solar and battery storage. Traditional utilities could potentially offer related services to support these efforts, if not the infrastructure itself – but again, it requires not only creation of these services, but training of technicians to implement. Choosing wisely is key, from start to finish.

But we’re not done yet! There are also Integrated Utility Services nipping at traditional utilities’ heels . . .

“The IUS Model was developed by the Rocky Mountain Institute for Fort Collins Utilities (Colorado). . . The IUS could provide an alternative pathway” 2 to creating options that will keep everyone happy. It combines rooftop solar as everyone’s default go-to and somehow preserves utility revenue, as it maintains a partial role for these products in users’ lives. A potential compromise for utilities to consider? Perhaps.

But for this to work, “Utility companies would need to seamlessly blend an array of products, services and financing tools that have not previously been integrated.” 2

And work has already begun in sorting this out.

We are seeing an increasing number of utilities take an active role . . . in incubating new technologies and startups through venture capital initiatives and participation in industry consortiums. Only by being deeply involved in research, innovation, and testing can utilities discover what may lead to new pockets of value and what may turn out to be a dead end. 1

But regulation surrounding all of it is lagging, leaving utilities stuck between a rock and hard place, and requiring rapid internal change whenever they’re able to push forward. And that can mean massive or slim returns, depending on how utilities prepare for these eventualities.

Simulated Training to the Rescue for Long-term ROI
Virtual training offers utilities a platform that is available anytime, anywhere and can be deployed globally with a few clicks via tablets and even phones.

Utilities can offer on-the-job guides around any number of functionalities, and upload new ones as they’re available – capturing the latest service capabilities and pushing them out to end users in real-time.

And guided interactive trainings can be created as well, ones that are tailored to individual operator needs, and that provide feedback to both the trainee and managers for evaluation and next steps. Operators retain what they learn via 3d simulated training 80% more than they would otherwise.

But don’t take our word for it, ask the safety team at utilities like PG&E. We helped them develop a Lockout-Tagout (LOTO) application to train new and existing employees on this OSHA-required procedure. The instruction required trainees to perform the LOTO procedure on four specific types of hazardous energy; chemical, electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic in both active, stored and special situations. You can see it in action below:

Before using the LOTO Sim, training PowerPoints had employees grappling with concepts. Now we use the simulation to onboard new hires (12 a week initially), which is very useful since the software allows them to actually do it. They now understand the importance of Lockout-Tagout! Hires from other companies are surprised that they never had access to this kind of interactive training before.
– Safety Training Coordinator, St. Croix

The trainings themselves will take some time to develop, naturally – just as they would when developed for a traditional classroom setting, but unlike typical trainings, these are not static offerings given to a large group.

There are no associated travel costs, and time away from the job are kept to a minimum. In fact, PG&E experienced significant savings when they deployed a 3D interactive maintenance simulation allowing gas service technicians to practice each step of a complete tear-down and rebuild of a GE Becker VRP-600-CH Pilot.

Typically, the error rate, as well as the time to train the technicians would be high and there would be corresponding downtime and potential damage to equipment.

The simulated training reduced the job time and associated costs by 62% and employees are now completing the job safely the first time around, decreasing rework by 37%. And as the simulation was designed to be portable, scalable and modular – available on iPads and PCs, it can happen any place at any time, so the reduction in travel and facility costs for annual refresher trainings has been significant as well. The cost to deploy additional simulations? It’s near-zero.

Take a look:

And there’s also no safety risk – so operators can practice performing dangerous new tasks, and running through emergency scenarios that they’d never be able to practice otherwise, all without any danger.

The result is not only enhanced safety and exceptional long-term ROI, but the ability to pivot with a changing market as the need arises – and you can be sure it will!

We’d love to talk more with you about the many ways the utilities industry is changing and how Heartwood can help you meet these challenges head on. Reach out here today to discuss your unique need.

1 U.S. Power Utilities Outlook 2019 [source:]

2 The New Age of Electricity – Utilities in 2019 [source:]