Lightning Lab Electric is lucky enough to be partnering with some of the most innovative companies in the New Zealand energy sector. Today, we talk to Dr Thahirah Jalal from Unison about why they got onboard. Jalal is the Asset Intelligence Manager for Unison, one of the leading electricity distributors in New Zealand. They manage the lines network in many regions around the country, catering to over 100,000 consumers.

Unison has a mandate in place to support innovation, previously investing over $1 million dollars on innovative ideas internally. Within New Zealand, they are already seen as one of the most progressive lines companies in the country; in Australia, they were first to adopt new, more efficient communications systems. Sponsoring programmes like Lightning Lab Electric puts them at the forefront of the energy sector.

Similarly to Lightning Lab, Unison’s values are to support, improve and grow the wellbeing of NZ communities. “We see Lightning Lab as a way to enable people to innovate and encourage people to change”.

Unison itself is doing a lot of work to optimise their systems by integrating assets with analytics software. In Lightning Lab Electric, we are seeing a trend of using data. While this may seem like it won’t have an effect on consumers, Unison says ““If assets can work better, and run for longer before needing replacement, our maintenance costs are lower meaning that consumers get lower electricity bills.”.

Thahirah and her team have been doing work to develop algorithms; the company already has in place systems to monitor dynamic readings (including ambient and weather conditions – from Unison’s own weather station) to determine the maximum asset capacity and loads to improve efficiency gains. Thahirah also spoke of her personal interest in the predictive analytics area and developing the “Holy Grail” of analytics; to predict asset failure – and how her work will optimise Unison’s line assets in New Zealand – while still getting the most use out of an asset by replacing them just before they fail.

So what did the Lightning Lab Electric team learn from Thahirah?

From the programme, Marion noted that Unison are challenging the tendency within corporates who silo information, to open out their data in a company-wide, accessible solution which can inform decisions across the board, including out in the field. Brett commented that there is seemingly a lot of untapped value from the data lines companies collect.

From the ventures, Jamie, from emhTrade, took away the learning that, despite being regulated, some Electricity Distribution Businesses (EDBs) such as Unison can be really innovative and are exploring how they can get more out of their existing assets using data and analysis. 

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