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Is South Australia the Epicenter of Energy Innovation?

Feature Article | October 16, 2017 by John Ward

The energy industry is undergoing dramatic change all around the world. But you could argue that the state of South Australia is the new epicenter of energy innovation.

The South Australian government recently announced a project to build a 150-megawatt solar thermal plant near the small city of Port Augusta. The plant will use giant mirrors to direct sunlight to a central thermal tower that will heat molten salt, and in turn create steam to generate electricity. And Elon Musk made headlines with the news that his company Tesla will help create the world’s largest lithium ion battery to store renewable energy in the state.

You can also see this commitment to innovation at SA Power Networks – the company responsible for operating and maintaining the electricity distribution network for the entire state of South Australia.

“The Australian energy market is going through a huge amount of change, and as a result, every element of our company is being transformed.”

— Chris Ford, Chief Information Officer, SA Power Networks

Meeting the Challenges of Change and a Huge Service Area

In addition to keeping pace with an evolving energy market, SA Power Networks employees maintain a territory that encompasses 178,000 square kilometers of some of Australia’s driest and remotest landscapes. Summers often bring scorching heat and damaging wildfires to the region.

Assets spread across the state include 400 zone substations, 73,000 street transformers, 720,000 power poles, and 200,000 kilometers of wires.


Delivering Energy and Data

A keystone of SA Power Networks’ IT philosophy is improving the efficiency of the entire organization by getting the right data into the hands of its 2,000 employees. This strategy involves the innovative use of technologies such as analytics and enterprise mobility.

“Having more information on hand for people in the field and in the offices enables them to make quicker and more accurate decisions,” says Chris Ford, chief information officer at SA Power Networks.

SA Power Networks is also performing advanced analytics on live data as well as historic and demographic data to help them respond better to emergencies such as brushfires and storms – and manage the overall network more effectively.

“Predictive analytics is really key to us moving forward. We currently have pilots underway designed to help us predict exactly where we will need to repair lines in certain storm situations.”

— Chris Ford, Chief Information Officer, SA Power Networks

Energizing a Mobile Workforce

Mobile access to information is especially important to SA Power Networks’ remote personnel and the home-office employees who support them.

A good example is how the utility has achieved an estimated five percent faster processing on the 30,000 purchase orders the utility generates every year.

“We use a mobile app that streamlines the entire procure-to-pay process,” says Melissa Maio, SA Power Networks’ purchasing team lead. “Our managers and field personnel can approve requisitions and purchase orders from anywhere using their mobile devices.”

The utility also customized a mobile app to allow field personnel to gather service interval information and data from asset inspections in real time. This helped boost a 30% increase in field crew efficiency for asset reclosure inspections.


Powering Ahead

Innovation continues to be a priority in the energy industry down under. Australian news reports there are currently more than 50 large-scale renewable energy projects under construction across the country.

With technology such as SAP Mobile Platform, the SAP Work Manager mobile app, and SAP Business Suite powered by SAP HANA, SA Power Networks is determined to keep pace with the progress.

Regardless of how the energy is generated, delivering electricity to the 1.7 million people of South Australia remains SA Power Networks’ singular mission.


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