Reducing carbon emissions in utilities

“She’s electric can I be electric too?”

Big water and wastewater UK utilities will typically emit over 11,000 tonnes of CO2 every year from sending field teams to perform operational and maintenance tasks. Carbon reduction is understandably the hot topic for utility companies globally, and regulatory pressure nationally demands a reduction in carbon intensity, but this is often much easier in theory than in practice.

Some of the UK’s biggest fleet operators (including BT Openreach, Centrica, and Royal Mail) have recently declared their ambition for all new cars and vans to be electric by 2030[1]. But current estimates suggest that by 2040 less than 50% of commercial vehicles in the UK will be electric. Moreover, it’s unclear how and when the largest and most polluting vehicles will become fully electric.

Focus on the detail

What if there was a quicker, smarter and cheaper route to reducing carbon? It is time to take a deeper analytical look at how work is Planned & Scheduled in the field. Our research has shown that by thinking differently about how the mobile field workforce is managed, a 12% reduction in fleet CO2 emissions can be achieved. What’s more, it will reduce fuel costs and create a step-change in productivity and improve customer satisfaction– good for the environment, good for customers and good for the bottom line.

Let’s consider the typical utility company that has a vast geographical area to cover. Servicing this area requires the workforce to drive thousands of miles between sites every year. The carbon expended is seen as a by-product of the mobile workforce. How much could be saved by taking a closer look at which of those journeys could have been avoided?

Geospatial analysis

One innovative approach is harnessing geospatial analysis to create ‘network hot-spot maps’ which track visits over time. Like flood prediction mapping, these maintenance maps can track site visits combined with scheduling data on travel time to build a picture of site visit attendance frequency.

Taking a deeper look at the schedule shows that some sites and assets take up a disproportionate amount of the field team resources. It is possible to map the small proportion of assets that are revisited multiple times by different teams. This is a massive drain on natural (and human) resources.

A critical factor in carbon reduction is job density. By analysing and visualising the number of jobs completed on a site (or across a small area), we can assess planning efficiency. Field teams travel to a site or area and often only perform one job before moving to the next site. Unlocking the routes to improving job density reduces travel time, increases true productivity, and reduces carbon.

Right First Time

Unmanaged repeat attendance where teams have been to the same or similar issue on multiple occasions is where carbon losses can seriously mount up. The actual productivity and carbon cost is rarely accounted for correctly. Worse, using metrics like jobs per day completed can hide the fact that productivity is dropping, carbon is increasing, and customer service is deteriorating.

Visiting a site once and completing the job ‘right first time in full’ requires effective planning and logistics – right people, skills, parts and equipment. It takes time and resource to plan efficiently, and this is where the Planning teams have a crucial role to play.

Scheduling work focusing on job density sounds simple but can be complex when balancing skill requirements, job priorities, and emergency work. Scheduling technology is available to enable this but is often not exploited to its full potential.

Gaining a detailed understanding of assets and their condition through data analytics is vital. Many companies have high volumes of emergency reactive work and are essentially operating ‘blue light’ services, limiting their ability to reduce carbon by minimising travel. If priority is given to stabilising the assets, planning teams can increase job density over the longer term.

The 3 C Reductions

Unlocking the potential of carbon reduction is not only about the big capital initiatives to reduce carbon, but the basics also still need to be done exceptionally well. Focusing on the fundamentals will deliver the ‘3 C reductions’ – Carbon intensity, Customer frustration and Costs.

Sustainable carbon reduction can be achieved by having metrics in place that drive behavioural change, such as measuring job densities and single visit resolution to reduce travel, combined with changes to operational working practices that enable continuous improvement.

Changing to a wholly electric fleet is a noble ambition for the future, but analysing the geographic patterns of work to cut down on unnecessary journeys and carbon reduction is within reach now.

[1] Source data: BloombergNEF Electric Vehicle OutputThis article was first published in

Utility Week in June 2021