Joe Tellez, Chief Technology Officer, Tacoma Public Utilities
Many utilities know that data analytics offers a wealth of benefits, but crafting an analytics strategy is a difficult task. Our team at Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU) knew we were sitting on goldmines of data from our water and hydroelectric power utilities, but we were challenged to fully leverage data in operational decision making. Ultimately, as part of our utility strategy, we began a journey to become more data-driven, seeking to use data to benefit our customers and streamline our operations.
Power and water utilities have been analyzing data for decades. New technologies allow us to perform data analytics in ways we haven’t before. What we see now in our industry is that we can move from a command and control model that says “tell me what you want” to a more scientific approach that uses solutions-based inquiry.
"New technologies allow us to perform data analytics in ways we haven’t before"
For us at TPU, we’ve engaged in a rapid transformation effort by adopting a cloud-based analytics ecosystem that is enabling culture change. In less than two years, we’ve started a transformation to become a more data-driven utility. During this time, we’ve tested our model on unique utility use cases that have the potential to deliver high value. One key example involves our salmon hatchery operations at our hydroelectric generation projects. Our goal was to use data science to maximize the value of our hydroelectric generation assets, while minimizing fish loss.
Standard practice for utility technology projects is to pursue a high-cost, one-time investment and depreciate that investment over decades. We proposed the opposite: avoid a large upfront investment; minimize cost, risk and time to implementation; and most importantly, demonstrate value quickly. To get started, we introduced the concept of agile delivery to the organization, which we’ve been able to apply to our work moving forward.
We also performed the hard work of drafting a detailed description of the juvenile fish collection process, identifying the variables that impact fish survival, developing an overview of the analytics technical ecosystem being implemented, optimizingoperations as we monitor energy output versus fish loss. Data visualization is an important component of this work as is providing real-time metrics through streaming analytics. Our fish biologists are scientists who are accustomed to analyzing data. Providing the data in a new way will help them make better investment recommendations for fish collector technology.
Just the same, we are applying analytics to ensure the quality and health of Tacoma’s fresh water supply. Using modern data engineering practices and data visualization, we are streamlining a reporting process that used to take weeks to true self-service analytics for the benefit of our staff and customers.
As we look to the future, we’re excited to continue to mature our analytics capabilities. TPU is currently rolling out advanced meters and we intend to use the data to further benefit our customers and improve utility operations. Moreover, we’re seeing a new generation of employees enter the utility workforce with expectations for seamless access to data to do their jobs. Building out our data practice is helping our staff to find their work meaningful and contributing to the benefit of TPU customers. Overall, we’re hopeful that our emerging data-driven culture will continue to mature as we invite others across the utility into our journey of transformation.