Digital utility on horizon

Technology is helping overcome the tyranny of distance for selling and distributing electricity in some of WA’s harshest areas, and upping its usage is firmly in Horizon Power’s sights.

The Government Trading Enterprise supplies power to 100,000 residents and 10,000 businesses in regional and remote WA via power stations and microgrids and services an area of 2.3 million sq km.

With an average of one customer per 54 sq km, it’s the largest area with the least number of customers in the world.

But CEO Stephanie Unwin says there does not have to be a tyranny of distance, with Horizon investing in technology to overcome the hurdles.

Horizon Power CEO Stephanie Unwin describes how technology is changing the utility

In fact, she sees distance as an opportunity to change the way the utility operates as it shifts towards automation, while bringing the workforce along for the ride.

Horizon is already at the forefront of technology, overhauling its traditional poles and wires distribution with more options for customers such as microgrids and standalone power systems.

Unwin says at the heart of Horizon’s five-year plan is cheaper bills, a better operating utility and more customer choice in what solutions they can add, such as batteries and solar panels.

With increasing use of sensor and drone technology out in the harsh conditions where Horizon supplies power, Unwin says the first line of response for her team doesn’t always have to be about driving long distances to check what’s happening on the network.

Unwin says upscaling and reskilling for automation and the internet of things can actually unlock the potential for the workforce rather than be feared.

“We can draw insight from being able to look at things in different ways,” she says.

“It’s enormously exciting for our people, not just the technology from a system perspective, but also the things that we use every day that can make life easier to work at horizon and deliver great service to our customers.”

With automation already in use at Horizon, Unwin hopes to “bring in more things in a way that unlocks value and opportunity”.

Working in remote WA locations means the utility must solve problems that other businesses don’t face, such as overheating iPads because of the hot weather conditions.

“IPads don’t like the heat so we’re trying to come up with cooling solutions and potentially we’ve got one of our local manufacturers here who’s got an idea. We could put it in a case like a cooling device, where it stays cool for 12 hours, which would be awesome for our linesmen in the field,” she says.

“The devices are crucial because they bring real time information from base and provide it to someone in the field. All the work instructions are on there so the configuration of the network is clear and able to be seen so you know which pole you’re working on, and you can send information and instructions back.

“So that is here today, but we’re enhancing it and improving it all the time, bringing more data into it and making sure it’s more and more accurate.”

Unwin says Horizon will be seeking partners to create other technologies that can be tested in the field.

It also aims to be a digital utility within the next five years, using more data as it becomes even more available.

“It’s critical, it’s hygiene now,” she says.

“There is not a world in my view where you can’t see your data and be able to make good decisions because of it.

“But also bring your workforce along on the journey and reskill and upscale for what is a very exciting future – that’s going to take investment.

“And we need to make sure that investment pays back. And we do it in smart areas where we know we can get a bit of benefit.”

Unwin says ultimately, Horizon will be a more efficient organisation because of technology uptake and data usage.

She said it also needs to rebuild its generation capability in the wake of increased renewables, will trial hydrogen next year and capitalise on some exciting new technology it has been trialling.

Find out more about Horizon Power, a CCIWA Member, here.

► The next edition of WA Works reveals how Horizon Power is on the cusp of solving a major renewables problem. It’s part of a special feature on renewables. Subscribe here to the major source of supply chain news in WA.

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