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Building Effective Asset Management Inspection Programs (1 of 3)

June 18, 2020

Three Things to Consider Before You Get Started

By POWER Engineers


Managing assets is the primary job of the energy delivery business unit within electric utilities. While it might not always be the way it’s thought about, utilities have a huge investment in assets. These assets are scattered across large geographic areas and each one is needed to keep the lights on. By implementing effective inspection programs, utilities can obtain more value, longer life and greater reliability from their assets, which has a direct impact on profits and customer service.

A sound asset management strategy is also central for maintaining regulatory compliance. Increasingly, regulators are focused on customer service levels, maximum return on capital and reducing operational expenses. Not only is it important to manage assets well for your utility, but it’s important to demonstrate this to regulators.

#1 Setting Goals for Your Asset Management Program

The overall goals of a new or improved asset management program will always be to improve system performance and reduce operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. But first, we need to ask the question: what problems are we solving?

Regulatory Compliance – Performing to the metric set by regulators is always an important driver. When considering regulators, it is important to, 1) move systems performance metrics forward, 2) show effectively managed (reduced or at least lowered percentage of increase) O&M costs, and 3) effectively report progress on service-level agreements for reliability.

O&M Costs – Utilities are constantly under pressure to reduce O&M costs. Because O&M costs go straight to the bottom line, they are very visible on the company balance sheet. Being smart about system maintenance and inspections can have a definite impact on the bottom line.

Return on Investment – To get the best return on our asset investments, we need to make sure we get full-service life from our assets while performing the minimum maintenance (but not less). An effective maintenance program helps us assure that we visit the asset as often as necessary but not more often.

Improved service levels – Beyond regulatory compliance, keeping customer service levels good and improving is almost always one of the goals of a utility. Being able to identify and address assets which are not performing well or nearing end of life is a very effective way to improve service level.

#2 Predictive vs Calendar-based Inspection Programs

Most utilities start out with periodicity or time/calendar-based inspection programs. These programs are typically built around industry best practices for the frequency at which asset should be visited for inspection and maintenance or may be driven by regulatory requirements. Domain knowledge within the utility is also frequently applied to adjust industry standards to account for local condition and experiences.

Calendar based inspection programs

Calendar-based inspection and maintenance programs are well accepted and widely used. If your goal is to execute, track and analyze your time-based program more effectively, choose a platform that gives you the right tools to do this by allowing you to plan, track and execute your program efficiently. From there, you can leverage advanced tools to make sure you understand the condition of your assets and know the location of any developing problems.

Predictive-based inspection programs

Predictive inspection and maintenance programs are a way to step up your inspection program. They allow you to consider characteristics of each asset to determine how often and when to visit an asset. This allows assets with a low consequence of failure and a low probability of failure (i.e. low risk) to be visited less often, saving O&M dollars, while high risk assets can be visited more often. The net result is making fewer visits while improving overall asset performance.

Fortunately, transitioning to a more predictive inspection approach doesn’t require a complete overhaul. Utilities can start slow and utilize available data, system integration and business drivers. Each asset class can be evaluated, and where enough information exists, more predictive methodology applied. Then, as better information is collected, the predictive program can be expanded, and more assets classes included.

#3 Choosing the Right Platform for the Job

It’s important to choose a platform that will provide your utility with a complete work and asset management solution. Today, modern configurable solutions can leverage open architecture to bring your asset information together across multiple systems and assure that the “single source of the truth” is maintained. GIS is the central hub of utility asset information but needs more specialized solutions to effectively support asset management. This makes it essential that your asset solution is GIS centric and takes full advantage of your GIS’s capability.

The good news? The cost of ownership is more reasonable than ever. Many of the components of an asset management solution are likely already in place at your utility and just need to be implemented or configured. This allows utilities to step up their asset management program without large initial investments. This also supports an evolutionary approach to moving forward instead of the large and more risky revolutionary approaches of the past. Moving your asset management program forward is moving forward the key role of a utility.

Next Article in this Series: Why Your Asset Management Platform Matters

Questions about Asset Management solutions? Contact Kristi Norman, Geospatial and Asset Management Business Development Department Manager.