By Bill Moore
The energy sector is living through a transformative moment in more ways than one. Not only has the novel Coronavirus upended traditional workplace practices, ushering in the era of the hybrid workforce, but significant changes to supply/demand metrics and the need for long-term sustainable energy have put clean energy in the proverbial spotlight.
Renewable energy is on pace to produce more energy than coal for the first time in history, reflecting the sector’s growing significance. However, according to the International Energy Agency, complications related to COVID-19 threaten to stunt the sector's growth, creating a need for companies to adapt quickly.
To maintain operational continuity, maximize opportunity, and compete in an increasingly digital-first environment, green energy companies will need to become increasingly agile, adapting their approach for a post-COVID-19 reality. Remote operations capacity, the ability to communicate, collaborate, and interact with physical infrastructure, will play a prominent role in this moment. Here’s why:
Remote work helps green energy attract top talent.
Emerging green energy companies are competing with Silicon Valley and other tech-centric sectors for the top talent. Although COVID-19 has forced many companies to shed industry jobs, long term trends suggest that renewable energy companies will need to convince qualified young professionals to join their ranks to ensure that they have adequate staffing to bring their plans to fruition. Before the pandemic, the industry faced a looming skills shortage, which will only become more problematic as new remote opportunities arise in other sectors.
Several prominent tech companies have already announced long-term remote work plans, adding new levels of flexibility that green energy will have to meet to convince qualified candidates to apply. Collectively, more than half of all employees want to continue working remotely even after the pandemic subsides. Flexible work arrangements can help with chronic recruitment and retention problems, offering a long-term solution to talent acquisition efforts.
Green energy operational sites must be accessible anytime and from anywhere.
While the argument over green energy’s efficacy as a capable and cost-effective energy source is settled, the sector still needs to convince people that these operations can be effectively managed remotely.
The pandemic is a reminder that on-the-ground circumstances can change virtually overnight. In addition to the inevitable unstable weather patterns, green energy producers need to account for the possibility of another global pandemic, geopolitical conflict, and other unforeseen disruptions to ensure that they can provide critical services regardless of circumstances.
Critical green energy systems are under growing cyber threats.
Utilities are continually under siege from nation-states and bad actors looking to exploit their service's critical nature to extract valuable data or financial concessions.
Unfortunately, these threats have only become more prominent since the onset of COVID-19, as new remote work has created a dynamic environment that has increased novel cybersecurity risks.
Renewable energy producers need to account for the new threats posed by a hybrid workforce while also responding to their IT infrastructure's often-porous nature by securing it against new vulnerabilities.
Developing comprehensive remote operations capacity keeps employees from implementing dangerous workarounds, relying on insecure technology, or creating an ad-hoc remote access strategy that increases cyber risks. When adopted correctly, this capability maximizes opportunity while mitigating risks associated with operating remotely.
In many ways, the companies best equipped to capitalize on this momentum acknowledge and respond to the shifting operational landscape by preparing to succeed in an increasingly digital-first environment. Remote operations capacity can’t solve every challenge. Still, it’s a critical component of any long-term strategy, and it could be the difference between companies that are prepared to meet the moment and those that flounder in the future.
Bill Moore is the CEO and Founder of XONA, providers of a “zero trust” user access platform especially tailored for remote Operational Technology (OT) sites. Bill brings more than 20 years’ experience in security and the high-tech industry, including positions in sales, marketing, engineering, and operations.
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