How Augmented Reality is Solving Critical Workforce Challenges in Utilities
EPRI’s Utility Digital Worker Initiative
By Gary McAuliffe, VP of Global Utilities, Librestream
Gary McAuliffe is Librestream’s VP of Global Utilities. He works with electric, gas, and water utility companies to deploy AR solutions to reduce operating costs, improve system uptime, and enhance worker safety.
Digital Transformation is alive and well in the utility sector. Utilities are leveraging technology to drive efficiencies, build better customer relationships, harden the grid, and decarbonize their generation fleets. These are very exciting times for our industry!
One area that is growing in focus is workforce transformation. With the worldwide skilled worker shortage expected to rise to 85 million by 2030, utilities realize that they must leverage technology to build efficiencies and better equip the workforce to do more with less. Add in a generational retirement issue as the baby boomer generation moves through retirement, and it is clear that new capabilities will be needed to help with these workforce challenges.
The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has acknowledged this challenge and is investigating the use of technology to aid with this critical transformation. Last month, EPRI kicked off its Utility Digital Worker Initiative. This is a two-year project in which EPRI will explore the adoption of Digital Worker capabilities in the sector and identify ways that utilities can better leverage technology to meet the critical demands of the changing workforce.
EPRI defines Digital Worker as “integrating technology to provide field workers with the information and capability to perform their jobs safer and more effectively.” Additionally, they say, “this technology may encompass smartphones, tablets, head-worn devices, wearable computers, and other cutting-edge technology simply mobile applications, augmented and virtual reality, autonomous data gathering, artificial intelligence, location mapping and computer vision.”
Our team at Librestream is extremely excited about this project, as it highlights the critical need facing the industry and allows the sector to focus on how to solve these issues with technology. At Librestream, we call the aggregation of these technologies a “knowledge network,” and the goal is to provide the right information, via the right device, at the right location exactly when it is needed.
EPRI’s project focuses on three core research areas:
- Case Study Evaluations: EPRI and the participating utilities will prioritize critical use cases and catalog them by “Level of Effort” and “Level of Impact” to identify the lowest hanging fruit that will provide the most immediate return on investment.
- Guidance and Practice: EPRI will develop a guidebook to help identify key considerations in procurement, implementation, and selection of technology.
- Digital Worker Maturity Model: EPRI will develop a maturity model to help utilities assess the state of their Digital Worker initiatives compared to industry benchmarks.
EPRI has designated this project as a cross-program initiative. This means they will have focused efforts in Generation, Transmission and Distribution, but they intend to share learnings across each of these areas. This is critical, as Digital Worker learnings in Distribution can also be relevant in Transmission and Generation and vice versa. At Librestream, we believe the combined learnings across the sectors will make the project even more valuable to the participating organizations.
Librestream is excited to follow and contribute wherever possible to this initiative. As a provider of augmented reality and collaboration software, we have extensive knowledge and experience in deploying Digital Worker projects at scale in multiple industries (defense, oil & gas, manufacturing and aviation). We have seen how equipping field workforces with technologies that enable deeper knowledge capture and collaboration can dramatically improve operational costs, safety and worker satisfaction.
While utilities are embracing these technologies, the industry has yet to broadly scale these solutions in an enterprise-wide fashion. Librestream hopes to contribute insights from scale projects in other industries to help the utility sector rapidly adopt these capabilities. For example, we have seen customers in other industries increase productivity by as much as 70%, triple the amount of field inspections and reduce onboarding time by a third.
In addition to our scale experience in other industries, two of our current electric utility customers are planning to participate in the EPRI project. We are confident that utilities will see similar benefits as they move projects from POCs into larger-scale initiatives. The benefits can help address worker shortages, improve safety and drive significant reductions in Operations & Maintenance costs.
EPRI expects a dozen or more utilities to be involved with this project and welcomes additional utilities and use cases to help round out their research. Utilities interested in participating should reach out to Matt Wakefield at EPRI, who is leading this exciting initiative.
More information about the project can be found here.