There’s very little discussion on how technology, and especially engineering automation tools, may provide significant help with the #1 most important thing a utility does: the Rate Case.
Water utilities around the world, and engineers they work with, are using automation tools like the Transcend Design Generator to assess far more options for capital expenditures than could have previously been assessed manually. Here are a few examples of how this works in practice.
Using traditional manual design methods, utilities can only assess a limited number of options when they are preparing for a rate case. It is simply too expensive to pay for all the engineering hours it would take to consider a full range of scenarios. This means they have to overlook newer technologies which may result in lower operating costs and/or a reduction in the capital cost of planned facility upgrades. Just as important, it means they present the Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) with limited analysis on how their proposed capital improvements will perform under a wide range of weather and environmental scenarios.
Further, to save cost they often need to de-scope the design work ahead of the rate case, resulting in a less accurate budget than would be preferred.
If we look at past track records, PUCs have been burned too many times to count when they approve a capital improvement, only to see it become obsolete in a few years as population growth, rapidly changing weather, and/or new environmental regulations require that recent to improved again! Even more common, we see PUCs approve an investment only to find the budget was significantly under-estimated, resulting in a sub-optimal construction (as its forced to fit the original budget) or a new request for additional funding. The result is that PUCs lack confidence in the plans presented to them, resulting in rejected capital investments or requests for the utility to go back and add additional detail.
This is even further exacerbated by climate change, where we are still struggling to find an appropriate framework to measure risks and uncertainties which will likely have a major impact on the performance of any capital improvements being planned today.
But what if a utility and its engineering partners could leverage conceptual design automation software like Transcend to assess unlimited options and scenarios at the click of a button? By removing the high cost of billable hours and allowing engineers to focus their time on assessing outcomes, as opposed to calculating outcomes, TDG streamlines this process and allows for a broad scenario analysis. This could provide utilities with significant data to share with the PUCs at their rate case.
Imagine presenting a PUC with sensitivity analyses and reports showing how 5 or 6 different plant configurations will EACH perform in 10-20 different influent/effluent/flow/temperature scenarios?
In the current world of manual design, this means 50 to 120 completed designs, which is not economically feasible. However, with TDG this is as easy as setting up one plant design and clicking the “modify” button to run each scenario. In addition, since all the output parameters are available on the cloud, Transcend can support its utility and engineering to automatically produce whatever reports they would like to share with the PUC.
It remains to be seen whether this kind of analysis will help PUCs approve more capital improvements. However, it stands to reason that by giving the PUC confidence that the utility has assessed ALL possible outcomes, the PUC should be more likely to approve a proposal capital improvement.
Download the case study to see how they did it!