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When you’re turning on your fan or firing up your laptop to get some work done, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about where that power comes from. But all of that thinking comes to the forefront of your mind when there are massive disruptions to that system.

For example, here in California to prevent against the risks of highly dangerous wildfires, PG&E has actually proactively shut down some sectors of their services in order not to risk starting a wildfire which means that some parts of California were without power for days at a time. When that disruption hits, you suddenly think about where your power comes from and how it needs to change.

Western Australia is builds, maintains, and operates the electricity network in the south west corner of Western Australia. The Western Power Network forms the vast majority of the South West Interconnected Network (SWIN), which reaches from Albany in the south, Kalbarri in the north and Kalgoorlie in the east of the state and includes the Perth metropolitan area. That’s more than 100,000 km (62,137 mi) of powerlines, 816,082 poles & towers, 259,456 streetlights and 156 transmission substations.

However, in a conversation with Western Power, we asked them what the future of that grid was and they talked about an overhaul to the current model. They lightly sketched a future of the grid that will move from all those power lines and poles to a distributed, modular grid powered renewably by community batteries. That type of change is especially daunting in an environment like Western Australia where a great deal of that infrastructure has to cover vast and remote areas of their continent. So how are they preparing for that enormous re-imagining of their services and business model? They are engaging their people in that process.

When Western Power tries to solve a problem, it moves through three stages: Create, Incubate, and Activate (essentially equivalent to test, refine, and implement). They are using this approach for small initiatives like opportunities for cost savings, but also for large scale changes that address new technologies and service delivery mechanisms. They have lots of great business practices in this process that we’d love to see other companies (particularly energy companies emulate)

  • The measure the impact of all of their ideas. From time saved to revenue generated to GHG emissions. They can report on all of it.
  • When they’re launching a new initiative they bring in their top five advocates… as well as their top five detractors. The polarized voices allow groups to come to a middle ground that will help everyone move forward.
  • They have a defined “lab” space for workshopping ideas and testing things before rolling them out commercially.

To learn more about Western Power and their innovation program, listen to their full podcast interview here.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

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