Vector is going hard with hi-tech solutions and data analytics to solve Auckland's electricity distribution in a smart way, chief executive Simon Mackenzie tells Fran O'Sullivan.
Simon Mackenzie is enthusiastic about the use of data analytics to determine customer behaviours to better guide investment.
"The old-world thinking would have been all customers are the same," he says. "But now we see completely different patterns of behaviours.
"Those patterns of behaviour manifest themselves in things, such as what's going on with wealthier communities versus poor communities, what the housing stock is looking like, and what are the implications that fall into things like affordability."
Auckland's growth is unprecedented. Since 2013, the city's population has grown by the size of Whangārei and Tauranga combined. In this time, Vector has spent nearly $1.3 billion to strengthen network integrity and support and added 59,222 customers. It has also added 1019km of network — enough to stretch in a direct line from Auckland to Queenstown.
Mackenzie says one of the most interesting discoveries is what's happening with electric vehicle usage in residential Auckland. Vector can plot the residential addresses where electric vehicles are registered. "There's nothing basically in South Auckland and not as much as you'd think in the inner suburbs. And a huge amount out in the West."
Anecdotally, Vector is hearing that electric vehicle acquisitions are linked to housing affordability — people buying a second-hand Nissan Leaf to commute and keep costs down.
"The interesting thing for us with that from a boring network perspective those networks were all originally largely rurally designed. But now with infill on top of that, you've got the housing load but also the electric vehicle charging load."
This affects Vector's planning. For instance, as vehicle ranges move to a 450km range, then the charging impacts on load. "If you want to charge that in a reasonably quick timeframe — a fast charge is equivalent to seven households of consumption demand."
Mackenzie says the infrastructure has not been built for that level of demand. "A house demand is typically pretty predictable. But now you've got like an order of magnitude potential come along on to it."
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Vector has partnered with two leading cyber specialists, from the United States and Israel, to give it a whole new cyber capability, moving from platforms that used to be pretty much ring-fenced from the networks to being more connected to wider devices.
Mackenzie says a lot has been going on quietly behind scenes to build a platform that is fundamental to Vector to be able to optimise how it invests in the network and mitigates any collateral damage that can occur.
Various scenarios are published in the company's strategic asset management plan ranging from an uncontrolled to a well-orchestrated environment of highly integrated digital and electricity assets operating smoothly to minimise capital expenditure while ensuring at the same security, reliability and resilience objectives. The difference can be billions of dollars in forecast capital expenditure.
This is where technology comes into play.
Mackenzie says savings can be locked in through technology — putting in LED lights, for instance.
But there are areas of deprivation in Auckland where investment in power saving technologies has not happened. In these cases, Vector can for instance put in batteries to meet incremental capacity that is flexible, rather than adopting the legacy thinking of burying more cables.
"A lot of the data analytics started from a relationship we had with Palantir, probably global leaders in data analytics."
Vector is also working with Waiheke Island to fully electrify transport on the island.
"The Waiheke community's objective is to make it the first island in the world that's basically fully electric transport. So what we're doing, co-funded with ECCA — is we're putting quite a lot, I think it's 150, home energy chargers that will connect into the system as well as charging infrastructure down at the ferry terminal and wharf.
"You wouldn't want 180 people coming in and charging at the same time. So, basically, orchestrating that kind of charging when things are available, so a consumer can come home, plug their car in and all they need to know is it'll be ready by six in the morning."