Tim Gallagher is general manager at Trimble Utilities. We had a chance to sit down and talk to him about a variety of topics relating to the utilities industry including, asset lifecycle management, infrastructure funding, sustainability, new technology, and the future of public & privately owned utilities. Check out our conversation below.
Q: How can utility organizations and local governments make the most of their federal infrastructure spending?
TIM: We are currently seeing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to modernize our infrastructure and ensure that it is safe and sustainable. The first step to maximizing funding is demystifying the process—making sure that you have an understanding of what your community needs and how you can acquire the funding to address those needs.
Water infrastructure funding is already being funneled into local governments and utility organizations through existing programs like the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), as well as new funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). Many organizations now have the opportunity to create a “smart water network,” where they are able to implement technology such as IoT sensors and software to better monitor and manage their water assets.
On the other hand, federal funding for electric infrastructure is just barely starting to roll out.
Currently, there seems to be a different take (compared to water infrastructure) within the industry regarding how these funds should be allocated. There is a greater emphasis on fostering a fundamental change in the way grids are maintained and operated, with the goal of achieving digital modernization.
Q: What are some things utility organizations should be prioritizing or focusing on?
TIM: To put it simply, utility organizations should be planning for the future. The expectations of consumers and the overall landscape of the industry are changing, and utilities need to orient themselves to implementing modern technologies to continue meeting customer needs.
One way in which utilities can keep pace with change is by starting to connect data from various systems and software and taking a more holistic platform approach to managing their assets. This connected platform approach allows them to consolidate and leverage copious amounts of data to gain real-time insights on their assets, enabling them to make sure that their infrastructure is reliable and sustainable.
Q: What does the future of public utilities look like?
TIM: While we are seeing a continuous evolution and modernization in the water infrastructure sector, there is an even more fundamental change happening in energy.
Electric utilities are currently transitioning from a centralized and linear approach to their generation, transmission, and distribution of energy to a dynamic decentralized, bidirectional, digitalized, decarbonized, and democratized model of power delivery.
Historically, the most common approach that electric utilities have taken is a linear model where energy is generated through fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels turns turbines to generate electricity that is then sent through a transmission network to a distribution network to be consumed by communities, businesses, etc.
One of the biggest flaws in this old model is that it is inefficient—in part because electricity cannot be stored. The future model is one that fosters a bi-directional flow of electricity that incorporates a variety of new energy sources and technologies like microgrids, renewables, solar, wind, fleet generation, electric vehicles, battery storage, etc.
For example, electric vehicles consume power, but they also act as a great method for storing power. Because of this, electric vehicles that are sitting can be connected to the grid and can provide energy and serve as a resource for other parts of the grid, facilitating electricity generation (or fleet generation) through a fleet of electric vehicles.
Q: How can utility organizations ensure that their infrastructure is sustainable and resilient?
TIM: “Hardening” the grid is a huge topic these days. The opportunity we have right now is to define what this means and how we can know when we have accomplished this objective. The only way to do that is by adopting technologies and supporting platforms that provide insightful data.
Leveraging accurate data helps you make informed decisions and prioritize work activities, which ultimately leads to more resilient, safe, and sustainable infrastructure.
Q: What are some interesting technologies emerging in the utilities sector?
TIM: The use of advanced distribution management systems (ADMS)—a software platform that manages the distribution of electricity—is sparking the next evolution of optimizing electric network performance.
The utilization of this technology is allowing utilities to obtain a more dynamic, real-time view of their assets, enabling them to make better decisions. With ADMS, electric utilities can automate outage restoration, adjust load rates, execute peak demand management, support microgrids and electric vehicles, and much more.
While ADMS is not a complete “take your hands off the wheel” solution, it is close. That being said, there is still an ever-present need for the deep knowledge-set that operators possess.
Q: Why should utility organizations and infrastructure owners consider Trimble?
TIM: At Trimble, we offer advanced digital solutions and a deep GIS-centric approach to asset management. Our solutions can be expanded to work with the Cityworks platform—allowing utility owners to optimize their asset lifecycle management and enrich their communities.
Whether your organization is looking to manage water and wastewater, electric infrastructure, or execute utility vegetation management, Trimble and Cityworks have a solution to fit the needs of your community.
Want to learn more about Trimble Utility solutions and products? CLICK HERE >>
Q: What advice would you give to organizations that are struggling to keep up with their utility management?
TIM: Upgrading and transforming your infrastructure can be a little overwhelming. That is why I suggest that utilities take baby steps. Start out by identifying three priorities to focus on and complete, and go from there. A caveat I would add is that it is important to solve your infrastructure problems by using data-based analytics gleaned from your system.
Additionally, it’s essential that utilities don’t go it alone. Engage with your industry peers, participate in forums, and talk face-to-face. Improving our infrastructure is a team effort.
I would also recommend establishing a technology team in your organization and selecting a couple of new pieces of technology to implement. Infrastructure management technology has come a long way in the past couple of years and can help you make better data-based decisions.
Request a demo to find out how Trimble Utilities and Cityworks can help your organization with its asset management.