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Doing more with less, part 1

04172015-lean-part01You know the sprayer attachment on many kitchen sinks? I hate to brag, but I envision myself as sort of a “sprayer artist.” My specialty is cleaning dishes after meals, and I take it as a personal challenge to use the sprayer to eliminate any food residue on plates before they go into the dishwasher.

Earlier in my career, I had the fortune to acquire training and experience as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. I worked for a utility on projects that reduced variability and eliminated process waste. Occasionally I would share my discoveries at home. Yes, I am still married. Thank you for asking.

After dinner one evening I started the nightly cleanup. Standing by the sink, I automatically reached for the sprayer, only to feel my son’s hand close over it as he sat on the other side of the island. He simply said, “Waste of time, waste of water.” Don’t you hate it when your children call you out on something, and you cannot argue?

Sometimes people read my blogs. Occasionally they even respond and comment. This occurred after my two-part blog on choices, which dealt with the electric power generation choices utilities are making, and the potential long-term consequences of those choices.

One reader commented that the need for more generation could be moderated by a combination of using electricity more efficiently and with more conservation. Utilities have historically invested a lot of money to encourage customers to conserve and be efficient, but without much to show for it in terms of slower load growth.

The electric utility industry is experiencing a number of trends that make efficiency more important than ever. In addition to the previously mentioned issue with generation challenges, also consider the following.

04172015-lean-labor-graphicThe workforce is aging. It’s estimated that by 2020, the percentage of the U.S. workforce composed of people ages 55 and over will be 25 percent. This is the highest percentage seen since the depression era of the 1930s. (No, I read about it, I did not experience it. I’m not THAT old.)

The rate of growth of the workforce is slowing. Population growth is higher in the older-age demographics. The rate of growth in the working-age population (those between 20 and 64 years old) will be less than in the baby-boom years. The working-age population will most likely shrink as a percentage of the total population. A gap exists between the required workforce and the number of working adults. It is expected to widen.

If the amount of work that needs to be done does not change significantly, and the workforce does not grow sufficiently, the end result is often an attempt to “do more with less” and “work smarter, not harder.”

Technological advancements have contributed significantly to maintaining productivity with fewer workers. Improved efficiency is another valid strategy utilities can use to deal with the growing pressure to “do more with less.”

In Part 2 of this blog post, I will provide specific examples of things utilities can do to be more efficient in ways that can help deal with the challenges of becoming more efficient.

I have to go now. The kitchen counter is full of dirty dishes…nobody is home…and I have a sprayer.

About the author

Marlon is our account executive in the Power market. He has more than 35 years of experience with all aspects of planning, design and construction of 12.5 kV-345 kV distribution and transmission systems, including right-of-way, design, regulatory coordination, public information meetings, public testimony and project management. With an extensive background in power transmission and distribution, Marlon brings a wide variety of knowledge in discussing the energy industry and the issues it faces. From education of future engineers to critical infrastructure analysis, he offers a unique perspective on the industry and where it's headed.