Working from Home as a Manufacturing Intern: The Yin and Yang

I began working for Itron in June 2019, and during my time here, I have worked on a variety of projects involving gas products, both from the Waseca, Minnesota plant as well as from my college town in Mankato, Minnesota. Interestingly, the past few months of my internship happened to fall in line with social distancing measures that were implemented to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

Although transitioning to working from home full time was intimidating, Itron’s flexibility, efficiency and diverse culture provided us with the resources and support we need to be able to work effectively in such an environment. With a few months of working from home now under my belt, I’m glad to have the opportunity to reflect on my personal experiences during this time because working from home is a whole new experience for me in itself! Working from home, like many things, has a yin (con) and yang (pro) nature.

Yang #1: You’re at Home!
This might sound obvious, but the best part of working from home is exactly that – you’re at home! During the workday, all the comforts of home are right in front of you. This might include taking a nice stroll in the backyard to get outside or simply munching on your favorite snacks while working before ordering food from places nearby. Nothing beats being able to cook your meals at home with ease. Sometimes I even wonder, “Why haven’t I worked from home before?”

Yin #1: Your Team is Also at Home
I’m a natural when it comes to being an extrovert, so I thrive when I can chat with my fellow coworkers face-to-face during the workday. I enjoy hearing about how everyone’s day is going, whether they are taking a day out of the weekend to try something new, or simply what they are working on. Working remotely can feel lonely at times. Luckily, through virtual team meetings once or twice a week, we are able to overcome these barriers and reconnect more easily than ever – it’s all about putting in the extra effort into communicating with your peers.

Yang #2: Commuting is Two Footsteps Away
My new way of commuting to work has been a breeze. Going from my bed to my workspace is far more pleasant and much quicker compared to driving my route to the office. The extra hour or two that I am no longer in a car allows me to be productive in terms of my daily routine. For instance, I have time to make myself a nutritious breakfast as well as meditate before I start my workday. As a result, I feel more focused and grounded during my weekday mornings, especially with a fresh cup of hot tea.

Yin #2: Distractions Are All Over the Place
Depending on the type of remote work environment you’re in, it can sometimes be difficult to concentrate on your work. The noise from outside, distractions from family at home (or in my case, the loud music playing from my roommate’s room), calls and text from friends checking in, and the endless pressure from chores you have yet to do— they’re always present when working from home. To prevent these disturbances, the first thing I now do is put my phone away in silent mode and use a noise-canceling headset to block out all unwanted noise.

Yang #3: Work is Still Effective
Given the circumstances, I’m grateful to still be able to gain the knowledge and experience from working for a company that enables the safe, reliable delivery of energy and water. The one-on-one meetings that I have with my manager have not only helped me stay on track with my projects, but it has also taught me to become self-disciplined in my work ethic while working away from the office.

Yin #3: Lack of Equipment to Work Efficiently
Working as a manufacturing intern, it is sometimes necessary to use hardware equipment for assigned projects. However, many of these tools are quite hazardous to bring home. Fortunately, Itron has always provided their interns and employees with facilities and equipment to work efficiently from anywhere. For example, I was provided with a second computer, which I have kept at my desk in the Waseca office so that I can remotely access that computer from home to control the equipment I need.

Dealing with the Duality [Yin and Yang]
During this time, I try to remind myself that my internship is meant to be a learning experience. Overall, I have found that working from home can be just as helpful as an onsite experience if you focus on the tasks you’re assigned first and communicate openly through virtual meetings and emails. Working from home has made me a strong communicator, a better problem solver and a more efficient worker in the field. As I reflect on my experience over the past few months, I can say that it is something that will help me for the rest of my life.


Itron Promotes John Marcolini to Senior Vice President of Networked Solutions

Today, Itron announced that John Marcolini has been promoted to senior vice president of Itron’s Networked Solutions business unit, effective immediately. He will succeed Sharelynn Moore who is leaving the company to pursue a new opportunity.

John has more than 20 years of experience in product management, business development and customer delivery. He has deep technical knowledge of networking, radio frequency technologies and IoT communications. In his previous role as the vice president of product management, he was responsible for product strategy and lifecycle management across Itron’s smart energy, smart city and IoT portfolios. In addition to his technical expertise, John has spent many years working with utility customers to deliver and implement complex product deployments.

Over the past two and a half years, John worked closely with Sharelynn to develop Itron’s networks strategy and will drive our convergence roadmap, build our smart cities and distribution automation business, and add more value for customers across the globe.

“John is a seasoned leader with the experience and skills to drive our Networked Solutions business forward. His extensive background in product management, business development and customer delivery are truly an asset to Itron,” said Tom Deitrich, Itron’s president and chief executive officer. “I thank Sharelynn for her many years of service and contributions to Itron and wish her well in her future endeavors.”

“I am honored and humbled to assume the role of senior vice president of Networked Solutions. It has been a privilege to work alongside Sharelynn – an industry veteran – to develop our networks strategy. I look forward to driving our plan forward to enable cities and utilities to better serve their customers, drive down costs and deliver new services and revenue opportunities.”


MetrixND, MetrixLT and Forecast Manager – Version 7.0 Releases

We are excited to announce the release of three new software versions of our core forecasting suite – MetrixND, MetrixLT and Forecast Manager. These are major releases with expanded capabilities that will improve the overall user experience.

MetrixND, first released in 1997, is the power-house of Itron’s forecasting software suite and is used daily by hundreds of users for rapid development of accurate forecasts. Powerful forecasting techniques coupled with visualization tools are invaluable when analyzing data. The improved project explorer in version 7.0 provides users with even more flexibility when developing forecasting variables and models.

MetrixLT, a specialized companion product to MetrixND, is used for developing hourly and sub-hourly load forecasts to support utility generation, transmission and distribution planning. MetrixLT can be used to generate load shape forecasts by end use, class of service, system or other user defined segments for the current year or 50 years out. Users will value the newly enhanced load-shape calculation capabilities and improved user interface.

Forecast Manager version 7.0 brings numerous new functions to support advanced billing cycle calculations, construction of daily weather scenarios, calibration of hourly load profiles, and daily tracking calculations. Upgraded grids and graphs are also included to further improve the user experience. To be successful, utilities require systems that automate processes and provide data and reports that management can count on. Forecast Manager brings together sales forecasting, data management and reporting into a single integrated application. All the sales, customer and weather data required for forecasting and variance analysis are incorporated into a single database. Forecast Manager streamlines the input of key data for forecasting and analyzing sales trends. Your MetrixND® forecast and weather impact models then link directly to the Forecast Manager database.

Itron forecasting products are the most widely used forecasting software in the energy industry. They are used for short-term natural gas and electricity forecasting to support day-ahead and real-time operations, retail scheduling, short-term renewable generation as well as for long-term to support portfolio management and procurement, financial planning and budgeting, and integrated resource planning.

To learn more about Itron’s forecasting products and services, we encourage you to visit the forecasting webpage, register for our free brown bag sessions and subscribe to our blog.


OpenADR Certified

OpenADR (Automated Demand Response) is an open, highly secure, two-way information exchange model and global Smart Grid standard. OpenADR standardizes the message format used for Auto-Demand Response (DR) and Distributed Energy Resource (DER) Management so that dynamic price and reliability signals can be exchanged in a uniform and interoperable fashion among utilities, ISOs, energy management and control systems.

Itron’s IntelliSOURCE is OpenADR 2.0a and 2.0b VTN certified. Using OpenADR allows utilities and cities to reduce costs and improve performance by providing the flexibility to leverage more types of DERs and devices, and can improve grid stabilization and reliability, power quality, pipeline management and conservation efforts.

Learn more about OpenADR from the experts at the OpenADR Alliance and see our OpenADR certified IntelliSOURCE product listing.

Contact Itron's team of experts at DEM@itron.com to learn more about how we can customize a solution to meet your needs.


July 15 Update: Latest Trends in Estimated Load Impacts of COVID-19 Mitigation Policies on North American and European Electricity Consumption

This data is for March through June 2020

As previously discussed in the first of this blog series on April 13, the Itron Forecasting Team is leveraging publicly available hourly load data for most North American Independent System Operators (ISOs) to build a picture of the load impacts by region as lockdown policies are enacted to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In addition, the Itron Forecasting Team is now including the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) and a select set of European countries to build a picture of the load impacts by region. To assess the load impact of COVID-19 mitigation strategies, actual loads when many of these policies began are compared to baseline loads without COVID-19 policy impacts.

Across Europe and North America, the biggest estimated load reductions occurred in April with an estimated reduction in average daily load between -7.2% and -11.7%.

Estimated Daily Average Energy Impact Wedge

For a detailed summary of the estimated load impacts, go to the forecasting website to download the latest COVID-19 Load Impact memo.

The Itron Forecasting Team will continue to post updated summary blogs and corresponding memos on the trends.

Subscribe to our blog to be notified of new posts, or contact us at forecasting@itron.com if you have further questions.


Where Are the Electric Vehicles?

I’m the last one in my family to own a Tesla. This is an odd statement until you understand that I live in coastal California where a Tesla is as a popular as a Honda Accord. Just yesterday, I counted at least 10 Teslas on my 5-mile commute home.

If I used my commuting observations as an indicator for electric vehicle saturations, my forecast would majorly distorted. Whether it’s overstating saturations (like me) or understating saturation (like some of you), our personal experience is biased and needs a healthy injection of unbiased data.

So, how many EVs are in my area?

The Auto Alliance is an industry trade group that provides statistics on the auto industry. While you can view data by any state, I drilled into California.

Scrolling down to the bottom of the California data, is a section labelled “Registrations”.

And there it is. In 2018, California had 31.5 million registered vehicles and 16.1 million were cars. There are 262,481 electric vehicles which is 0.83% of all vehicles. If you assume all electric vehicles are cars (not a bad assumption), then the ratio is 262,841 to 16,139,269, or 1.6% of cars.

For many, state-level data are not refined enough. In this case, drill down to the congressional district level and do some math. Once you figure out how districts map your service territory, you can get close to what’s registered in your service territory.

On second thought, my perception of electric vehicle ownership in my family isn’t 75% (1 family out of 4), it’s really 30% (3 vehicles out of 10). That make me feel a bit better. After all, it’s all about getting good data.


Start Me Up: Ensuring Safety as Projects Resume After COVID-19 Delays

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on everything we do in our communities, businesses and homes. As part of the essential workforce that has helped keep energy and water flowing throughout these times, investor-owned utilities, cooperatives and municipal service providers have played an extremely critical role in keeping us all safe while we adapt to stay-at-home orders, social distancing and more.

Alongside our customers, safety is our top priority at Itron. To help ensure the safety of our respective employees and the communities we serve, Itron’s Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) and Enhanced Field Services teams have developed a regimented project start/restart process that must be followed by our employees, contractors and suppliers as we resume work in the field with our utility and municipal partners. Key aspects of this process are highlighted below.

Safety Protocols for Project Start/Restart
Before any field work resumes or begins on new projects, Itron, our suppliers and our utility partners review and agree upon on a shared set of roles, responsibilities and Safe Work Protocols (SWPs). A formal go/no go document and review process is followed internally, including acknowledgements from our individual team members. Some of our due diligence includes the provisions below:

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, sanitizer and gloves is required for all field service employees.
  • A SWP document is provided to employees along with both indoor and outdoor training videos, depending on the nature of the work, that must be viewed prior to returning to the field.
  • A COVID-19 Return to Work questionnaire must be completed, certifying that the employee does not exhibit any coronavirus symptoms prior to deploying into the field and is comfortable returning to field work.
  • If there is a shelter in place order in effect for the community where the project is taking place, all necessary letters of approval for the workforce must be completed and on file. This would include formal designations of essential work as well as utility requests for service/installation work to begin.
  • Employees must follow the stated SWP and take the appropriate precautions when traveling to a customer by ground or air transportation, and when staying in a hotel.

Inventory and Equipment Retrieval Process
In addition to the safety protocols mentioned above, Itron’s field service personnel (both employees and contractors) and our suppliers must also observe the following rules when retrieving equipment to complete work orders in the field.

  • Personnel will arrive at the warehouse for inventory pickup at their assigned time. Personnel will not exit the vehicle until authorized to do so by the warehouse manager, and they will not be allowed to visit the warehouse outside of their scheduled time unless given specific approvals.
  • Personnel will enter the warehouse wearing their PPE (gloves and mask). PPE must be worn at all times.
  • Personnel will acquire their assigned inventory from the inventory pick area, which will include the needed quantities of PPE (masks, gloves, wipes and sanitizer).
  • Personnel will load their vehicle with their inventory and then will deposit their used PPE in the marked trash receptacle.
  • The warehouse manager will clean all contact surfaces between each person and will ensure inventory is ready for pickup by each member of our team.

As local, state and federal governments around the world begin to relax some stay-at-home/shelter-in-place restrictions, we are beginning to see the “new normal” of our post-COVID-19 world. And as infrastructure projects begin to ramp up and service providers refocus on other priorities, all of us at Itron remain committed to the safety of our employees, our utility and smart city customer employees, and to the consumers in our communities.


Timor-Leste Utilizes Itron Technology to Ensure Social Distancing

Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, people around the world have become accustomed to staying home to avoid spreading the virus. For many, this meant minimizing trips to the grocery store and foregoing group outings. However, in places like Timor-Leste in Southeast Asia, citizens must still leave their homes to purchase electricity.

In many parts of the world, including Timor-Leste, consumers prepay for electricity the same way some people utilize prepaid phone plans. To purchase electricity, consumers often buy electricity credits through kiosks set up by the electricity provider.

Recognizing that people would have to leave their homes and gather around these kiosks to purchase electricity, Electricidade de Timor-Leste (EDTL), which provides electricity for Timor-Leste, is offering a $15 per month prepaid token credit for two two months to more than 160,000 customers by working with Itron Indonesia. The electricity credit will help avoid crowds of people gathering to buy electricity credits at the EDTL boxes located throughout Dili and other parts of Timor. Limiting the need for people to leave their homes, EDTL is ensuring that consumers can practice social distancing while still providing electricity.

To help distribute and generate the electricity tokens, EDTL has been working closely with Itron Indonesia, which provides service management for the prepayment systems in Timor-Leste. Additionally, Itron provided support in creating custom programs to distribute the credits to residents.

Beyond providing credits, EDTL is expanding its implementation of Itron’s prepayment system, which provides residents with a vending system using SMS (Short Message Service) vouchers through their mobile phones. With this service, residents can purchase electricity in a convenient, cost-effective way.

As people around the globe continue to experience the ripple effects of COVID-19, we are thankful for energy providers who are helping keep the “lights on” during this pandemic.


Ensuring Manufacturing Employee Safety and Customer Success During a Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Itron has remained committed to continuing operations at our manufacturing sites, delivering the highest level of support and service to our customers and partners, all while balancing employee safety and adhering to local and country-level mandates. In many regions across the globe, the work Itron does is considered an essential service as we provide critical infrastructure solutions. The continued operation of Itron’s facilities, supply chain and contract manufacturers are critical to enabling our utility customers to reliably deliver energy and water during and after this pandemic.

For the safety of our manufacturing employees, our facilities have instituted safety trainings, established additional cleanings per shift, made hand sanitizer readily available and provided appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees. Itron is also utilizing social distancing in all locations, including within production lines, wherever possible. We are actively encouraging any employee who is not feeling well to stay home by extending sick leave benefits as needed.

In Europe, Itron collaborated closely with unions and works councils to maximize safety in our facilities and ensure that our global protocols were in line with country-specific measures mandated by local governments.

With these measures in place, our intent is to keep our communities safe and healthy while ensuring customer success and business continuity. To learn more about what Itron is doing to support our customers and employees during COVID-19, visit www.itron.com/covid.


Infinite Possibilities Virtual Field Trip

Itron is committed to inspiring future generations to help create a more resourceful world and in celebration of the World Environment Day on June 5, we launched the Internet of Things: Infinite Possibilities Virtual Field Trip in partnership with Discovery Education. Within the first week of the premiere, 850 classrooms registered to attend, reaching over 36,000 students from around the globe.

During the completely virtual experience, students, their teachers and families had an opportunity to see how the internet they use in their everyday lives can conserve natural resources, protect ecosystems and create safer, more sustainable communities. Viewers also met some of our talented STEM champions, including Sharelynn Moore, senior vice president of Networked Solutions, Bob Strasser, director of product development and Cristy McKinney, program manager, who showcased the world of cutting-edge smart technology and sustainable innovation.

The Internet of Things Virtual Field Trip builds upon the suite of no-cost virtual learning resources offered through Itron’s corporate social responsibility led educational program in partnership with Discovery Education, Conservation Station: Creating a More Resourceful World. This program provides middle school educators, students and their communities access to hands-on, innovative, engaging, standards-aligned resources and activities encouraging the exploration between water and energy through the lens of conservation.

This virtual experience is especially timely, accommodating for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new Internet of Things Virtual Field Trip was filmed and produced 100% virtually!

On World Environment Day, and every day, we are thrilled to amplify the power of technology as a tool to empower innovative solutions by presenting the future’s leaders and problem solvers with new ideas and real connections. To learn more, visit: learntoconserve.com.


Why the Standard 65 Degree Day Base May Not be the Best Choice

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) often defines heating and cooling degree days using a 65-degree base. A simple explanation of how degree days are calculated to ensure everyone understands what this means is: if the average temperature for the day is 55 degrees, there are 10 heating degrees and zero cooling degrees. Degree day base 65 formulas are:

Heating Degree Day (base 65) =max ⁡(65 - Temperature,0)
Cooling Degree Day (base 65)=max⁡ (Temperature - 65,0)

But if heating degree days are calculated using 55 as a base, there are no heating degree days. So, how you define degree days matters.

The need to use degree days in the context of energy forecasting is due to the non-linear relationship between weather and energy. Above a certain temperature, energy usage increases as temperature increases, and below a certain temperature, energy usage increases as temperature decrease. Defining heating and cooling degree days in base 65 assumes 65 degrees is the temperature at which the switch from heating to cooling occurs.

The relationship between energy usage and weather can best be seen using a scatter plot – the Y-axis is monthly energy per day and the X-axis is monthly average temperature. The data illustrated is based on total system loads for a service area in the Northern U.S. Examining the graph, it becomes apparent that heating does not occur at 65 or even 60 degrees. The heating does not begin until average temperatures reach 55 degrees. Cooling, on the other hand, begins when temps are as low as 60 degrees. The slope on the heating and cooling side changes with temperatures, implying that the impact of a CDD or HDD differs depending on how hot or cold the day is. The impact on energy by an additional degree of temperature is greater when the average temperature is 75 degrees compared to 65 degrees.

A simple modeling exercise can prove the benefits of using customized degree day breakpoints. Using the same dataset from the scatter plot, a monthly regression model is estimated using 10 years of data. The initial specification uses a constant – heating degree days base 65 and cooling degree days base 65 – and a trend variable to account for overall system growth. The model is able to explain 93% (Adj. R2) of the monthly variation in energy per day with just these four variables. This model has a Mean Absolute Percent Error (MAPE) of 2.08%, strong model statistics.

Based on the scatter plot, we can easily see that a 65 base is not the best choice for this service area. In the second specification, the weather variables are changed to HDD base 55 and CDD base 60. This small change increases the adj. R2 to 0.967 and decreases the MAPE to 1.46%. The final specification uses multiple degree day spines – CDD base 60 and CDD base 70 for cooling and HDD base 45 and CDD base 55 for heating. All variables are statistically significant. This results in an adj. R2 of 0.971 and a MAPE of 1.37%. Model stats are listed in the table below:

When multiple splines are required, the coefficients can be used to create a single weighted heating or cooling degree day variable for use in forecasting models. In this simple example, only monthly energy and weather was used. Daily data would provide an even greater resolution of the relationship.


Saluting Our Customers: How Utilities and Cities are Responding to COVID-19 – Part Five

Over the past couple of months, we have been spotlighting our utility customers’ great work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are they providing critical services, they are also promoting health, safety and hope in their communities. In this blog series, we recognize the honorable actions utilities are taking to support their communities and provide reliable access to electricity, gas and water during this exceptional time.

CitiPower & Powercor:
CitiPower and Powercor are Victoria, Australia’s largest electricity suppliers, delivering electricity to over 1.1 million residential households and commercial customers across the state. The companies have announced a suite of measures to provide support for residential customers and small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers will have access to electricity bill relief under a new support package and may be eligible for further assistance through rebates on network charges. CitiPower and Powercor are also waiving disconnection and/or reconnection fees for small businesses.

Pepco:
Pepco delivers safe and reliable energy to approximately 894,000 customers in the District of Columbia and Maryland. In response to COVID-19, Pepco donated $100,000 to United Way of the National Capital Area’s Emergency Assistance Fund. The fund will be used to promote the health, education and financial stability of the community, especially those residents who have been impacted by restrictions and closures of schools, businesses and community institutions. To proactively ensure safe and reliable service for local hospitals and major medical facilities during the pandemic, Pepco is utilizing drone technology. Crews use the drones to capture video and photos of the aerial equipment that powers critical facilities to identify issues that could potentially result in an outage before one occurs. Pepco is also taking steps to help customers manage their monthly energy bill by suspending service disconnections, waiving new late payment fees and providing energy assistance options.

Xcel:
Xcel Energy is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota and provides energy to millions of homes and businesses across eight Western and Midwestern states. Xcel Energy is dedicating $20 million in new funding to support short- and long-term corporate giving across the eight states they serve, including support for COVID-19 recovery efforts. The first part of the donation is designated for existing nonprofit partners along with organizations that address food insecurity and those that provide disaster relief. To further support COVID-19 recovery, Xcel Energy will sell the Mankato Energy Center, a natural gas-fired power plant, and use the net gain on the sale to fund relief efforts. Xcel Energy has also donated over 300,000 protective face masks and other protective equipment to local hospitals and relief organizations.

We thank our customers for their dedication and hard work to serve communities around the globe during these uncertain times. Read the previous blogs in this series, including part one, part two, part three and part four.