Coronavirus accelerates European utilities' digital drive
When COVID-19 plunged Italy into lockdown, it was decision time at the Verampio power station.
The control room, which runs a fleet of hydroelectric plants across the Piedmont region, hard hit by the pandemic, had to be secured to keep the lights on.
Operator Enel, Europe’s largest utility, moved quickly to create a parallel backup control room at a smaller site 30 kilometres away while also plugging some key workers into the plant’s data base so they could work from home to help keep control.
“We never done this sort of thing over a long period of time but it worked instantly,” said Giuseppe Serrecchia, Enel’s head of Global Power Generation Digital Hub.
“To properly respond to the challenges of COVID, we’ve boosted our overall digitalization drive.”
Like companies in other sectors, European utilities are having to speed up the adoption of new technologies as the coronavirus crisis forces them to use software, not people, to steer critical infrastructure including plants and grids.
Consultants say the move was overdue.
Spain’s Iberdrola (IBE.MC), the world’s second-largest renewables group by capacity, has set up similar processes to Enel.
The pandemic that brought the global economy to its knees has created advantages for businesses immune to shutdowns and restrictions, allowing staff to work remotely and providing technology to keep service flowing.