Here at VECKTA we spend a lot of time talking about distributed energy systems (DES). The belief at the core of our business is that the future of energy lies not in massive centralized energy production and distribution, but in smaller, interconnected systems, capable of integrating with, or working independently from the central grid as needed. We pursue this aim for many reasons but chief among them are safety, efficiency, and resiliency.
It has been interesting, scary, and inspiring to watch the world react and adapt to the arrival of the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic. Countries, governments, and businesses everywhere are responding and evolving in very different ways. But there are a few consistent themes that stand out for me and for those that appear to be adapting most purposefully and successfully:
- Distributed and empowered systems and teams backed by technology
- An “antifragile” attitude and structure
- The culture to challenge and debate constructively and ultimately leverage data and science to design solutions customized to a specific set of needs
- Recognition and acceptance of an uncertain future and the need to balance short-term needs and wants with long-term success
- A commitment to a sustainable (business, community, environment) future through diverse and collaborative action.
Businesses and organizations of all stripes are accepting the necessity and value of remote work. To be fair, several key industries were already shifting that direction, allowing more and more of their team members to operate from home, at least part time. The complexities of dense urban populations, long, congested commutes, and high commercial rents had already driven some sectors away from the traditional office scheme.
A great many industries however, have resisted this trend. A key argument extended in opposition to remote work has always been that it inevitably results in decreased productivity. Stay-at-home workers start late, quit early, and never get out of their pajamas, or at least that was the assumption.
Over the course of this unprecedented global-scale shutdown, this argument has been largely discredited. Numbers from across a broad swath of industries have shown no/minimal loss in productivity and in many cases, gains in efficiency since offices have gone remote. Anecdotally, CEOs and work-from-home employees have praised the decrease in mandatory meetings that eat time and drain motivation.
Also noted has been the novel capacity to integrate a work schedule with the rest of daily life. The traditional nine-to-five has lost some market share as workers split their days into customized chunks that better fit with household and family responsibilities.
The stats can be argued all day long, but in general it is proven that those who can work remotely are more engaged, enthusiastic and committed to their work. But there is a tipping point in terms of % of the time in/out of the office as well as other trade-offs. This will be another blog as we discuss VECKTA’s trials and tribulations associated with working remotely.
By closing up the close-quarters offices and distributing the workforce, businesses have been able to build resilience into their workflows. If one staff member gets sick, it cannot spread to the rest of the team along the traditional vectors of water-coolers and conference rooms. Instead, as that one staff member steps back to deal with their particular illness (hopefully something less sinister than COVID-19), the rest of the team can step forward and absorb the load.
Much of this resilience has been made possible by advancements in technology ranging from conference calling to team collaboration products. Functionally, we’re looking at a distributed human resources system that, like distributed energy systems, is demonstrating an innate capacity to operate more safely, efficiently, and with greater resilience than the model it is replacing, with the ability to adapt in real time/self-repair, isolate impacted areas and meet evolving needs and requirements. Just like remote office work, this has become and is increasingly becoming more possible, more efficient and more cost effective every day with advancements and price reductions in technology, both hardware and software alike.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to running a business or ensuring your power supply. Remote work doesn’t make sense for some industries just like microgrids don’t make sense for every energy project. Each solution to operating during the COVID-19 pandemic is by necessity customized: people, systems, tools and processes. This echoes our experience with DES. The COVID equivalent for the energy sector are aging or non-existent traditional energy infrastructure, assets becoming increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and cyber attacks, and society and businesses demanding more equitable and sustainable outcomes.
No Size Fits All
One of the greatest challenges we face in the DES industry is that we exist in a culture that craves standardized solutions. We like it when there’s a push-button answer to our staffing concerns, our business practices, and our energy supply. Complications—like trying to make sure the employees we can’t see are actually delivering value and not just kicking back in their PJs, or that the complex web of energy resources functioning together as a microgrid are working as designed for their unique set of needs—add stressers to an already overloaded plate.
The one-size-fits-all approach of the previous century doesn’t allow organizations to adapt purposefully to the future. Our complex modern world mandates customized solutions for the most optimal outcomes.
Coronavirus is out there now and the accumulating evidence indicates that it will be with us for a long time to come. In the meantime, other crises will inevitably arise and the next one, be it wildfire, flood, another pandemic, or something else entirely will likely impact our energy systems alongside our workforces. So let’s take the lessons of COVID-19 and evolve away from centralized systems that, while more simple to design and manage, are extremely vulnerable and rigid in terms of capability, and instead evolve toward something distributed, safe, interconnected, efficient, flexible and resilient.
Together let’s co-create a thriving and sustainable future.
Written By Gareth Evans
Photo credits: (Bill Oxford / Unsplash) (Denys Nevozhai / Unsplash) (Damir Spanic / Unsplash) (Fateme Alaie / Unsplash)