Biggest Challenges Facing the Utilities Construction Industry

Utiility construction industry challenges

Around the world, the utility industry is experiencing growth. On the flip side, it's also coping with dramatic changes in the form of sustainable energy, smart cities, and advances in technology. That means that this industry is subjected to some pretty major challenges -- here are the seven biggest:

1. The increasing impact of shutdowns and severe weather.

The cost of preparing for natural disasters and other service disruptions is steadily increasing. Unfortunately, climate change means that severe weather events are on the rise, too. Many areas have aging infrastructure that isn't well-equipped to deal with serious disruptions, adding to the difficulty of preparing for shutdowns and restoring service quickly and safely. Even new construction should take the increase in severe weather in mind.

2. Trouble maintaining communication.

Maintaining and constructing new assets both take place in the field, where workers often encounter unexpected obstacles to their work. They can also end up working with different information from their home office, which leads to delays and confusion. Developing efficient lines of communication doesn't just help get things done more quickly, it can also be a huge help when it comes to providing good customer service.

3. A shrinking talent pool.

Utility construction workers are leaving the industry, and it's getting harder and harder to find new talent. Workers are unlikely to stay with companies where they don't feel that their skills are valued and their safety is a priority. Human errors are causing workplace injuries, and a lot of those injured workers aren't going to come back. Operating safely often means taking time, so employers need to balance getting jobs done quickly with making sure that their workers stay safe.

On top of that, it's not reasonable for employers to expect workers to be loyal to a company that doesn't pay a competitive wage. There are few things that will make a potential employee willing to accept a pay cut, so good compensation is a must.

4. The challenge of renewables.

Renewable energy has a lot of positives, but one big negative: When compared to conventional energy sources, like coal and gas, it's not nearly as storable or transportable. This translates to a power source that's at once highly desirable, but also highly variable. Balancing power supply and demand, therefore, is far more challenging than it is with conventional power. Electricity providers have to adapt to a market that at once demands a drastic reduction in carbon emissions, but also needs a steady power supply.

This challenge is far from insurmountable, but the utility construction industry also has to deal with two other issues: aging infrastructure, and an increasing decentralization of the grid. More people are generating their own electricity, which creates additional complexities in an already very complex system. This leaves the utility construction industry to find a way to ensure the reliability of an old grid subjected to weather-based fluctuations in supply.

5. Shifts in customer demand.

For years, consumers have been told that they bear responsibility for carbon emissions on an individual level. As a result, their desires have shifted to renewable energy, graywater systems, solar heating options, and other measures that help reduce resource consumption. When given the choice between conventional utilities and a more sustainable option, they're choosing sustainability. As a result, company shareholders and decision-makers are making choices with this new breed of customer in mind, and the utilities construction industry has to act on them.

6. Rapid technological advancement.

While new tech is generally regarded as a good thing, utilities construction companies that don't stay on top of it might get left in the dust. It's important to remain competitive by exploring new potential revenue streams, like offering new installation services, or products like solar panels, solar water heaters, graywater systems, or resource-saving smart home technology. More customers are looking for professional, affordable ways to reduce their carbon footprints and save money on their utility bills, so it's a good idea for utility construction companies to poise themselves to take advantage of that demand.

7. Cyber security.

This one isn't unique to the utilities construction industry, or even utilities in general -- all across the board, companies are discovering just how important robust cyber security is. With the increase of automation, machine learning, and smart technology, the risk of a data breach similarly increases. For companies that rely on connected assets, the need to ensure data privacy and cyber security can't be overstated. While automation can be a huge help when it comes to things like predictive maintenance and data gathering, it can also provide a doorway for hackers.

The utility market is changing. There are mandates demanding a reduction in carbon emissions, and a customer base that wants their homes to be as sustainable as possible. While the market changes, old grids and pipelines stay pretty much the same. The utilities construction industry has to balance aging assets, technological advancements, and changes in what utility customers and shareholders want. While all of these challenges can be overcome, they're going to require agility and innovation to do so.

POSTED: August 23, 2022