Coronavirus Pandemic Calls for Reflection
Date: April 20th 2020
Author: Marjan Eberlinc
Just over one month after the Slovenian gas TSO had to adjust to working in exceptional circumstances, the first comments and thoughts can be shared about how the situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic will affect the energy sector as well as the operation and future development of the gas transmission infrastructure in the long term.In the initial phase just after the risk of coronavirus infection and spread had appeared, our first thoughts, response, and activities focused on immediately implementing and shifting to new working arrangements. The Plinovodi Control Centre is our first priority, ensuring secure, smooth, and reliable operation of the gas pipeline system in Slovenia. The full breadth of the implications of the pandemic is something nobody could anticipate, and I am happy to say we were able to ensure very early on that control teams remain in full isolation during the week while on duty, and that the control system continues to operate smoothly. In other words, while these activities are virtually cut off from the outside world, all the operations continue seamlessly.
For Plinovodi d.o.o., recognising the vastness of the threat and implementing the right measures to contain it as quickly as possible was an unfamiliar territory. More than four weeks later, it can be said that the entire company staff showed extraordinary dedication and commitment, adjusting to working remotely as soon as the new arrangements were decided on. Meanwhile, the jobs that cannot be done remotely have been fully adapted to the special circumstances.
I consider the measures and special working arrangements put in place at Plinovodi to respond to the emergency to be very effective. An analysis of scenarios varying by the duration and depth of the crisis enables us to switch between them depending on the real situation in practice, to keep all the key company functions intact. I am proud of my co-workers, who have managed in a very short time, virtually overnight, to roll out a remote working scheme. In this extreme situation, the scheme works just as effectively. It has also allowed us to recognise the additional benefits of working remotely in terms of increased confidence and independence of the staff, and their sense of initiative.
I hope and wish that we can gradually lift the measures in the coming weeks and slowly return to business as usual. Looking back, I can describe this period as test of the ability to abruptly shift to exceptional working arrangements for the key emergency teams, and to remote work for everybody else – a test passed with flying colours. Yet this was more than just a test. Today, I am happy to find that the company functions well and is on track with the existing schedules and targets.
Although far from over, the coronavirus pandemic has already raised several issues that call for reflection. The key challenge is the long-term impact on operation and the working process. The social aspect of work and coexistence in the workplace have taken on a new dimension, and some of the measures put in place for the most critical infrastructure will, albeit with gradually reduced intensity, undoubtedly have to be maintained, most likely to the point where they become commonplace. Adaptations will be inevitable, and I can already say the reasoning behind the new control centre, which had been part of the gas TSO’s development plans for several years, has turned out to be correct. Quite a few solutions for more effective response to such situations had already been included in the initial plans, confirming yet again that we had taken the right approach to the issue, identified the urgent need for new solutions, and recognised the importance of making the control centre autonomous and complete with all the operational and life functions of such a facility.
Needless to say, the coronavirus pandemic will have far-reaching implications for the development of the energy sector. My quick preliminary assessment is that the Slovenian energy industry has managed to respond adequately; as a result, no disruptions have so far been detected in any energy supply sector. In the long term, however, the likelihood of epidemics or similar events should not be disregarded. Just few months ago, a crisis of this scale could not even be imagined; now it is here, and we need to be ready to respond quickly and effectively in terms of energy infrastructure management in any future emergency or unpredictable situation. There will be new situations to ask ourselves whether all aspects have been considered, and crisis scenarios will need to be developed over and over again. It can be said with absolute certainty that the pandemic will bring a number of additional challenges, as well as provide opportunities. While there is still enough time for careful considerations and in-dept analyses, this is already clear: the main future challenges will include assessing a potential shift to varying patterns of working remotely; a transition to stepwise and increased autonomy of the key functions of energy infrastructure; adequately equipped maintenance systems and, in some aspects, their greater decentralisation, etc. All this has already started emerging as part of the approach and operational standard of tomorrow, and a way to manage the most complex emergency situations at large.
“Together we can!”
Looking ahead, speaking from my experience with setting up the new company working scheme to comply with the measures put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus, there are two key factors that keep surfacing in my mind: first and foremost, the company’s highly qualified and loyal staff, and its reliable, high performance technology. This is being confirmed daily in my contacts with the TSO executives in Slovenia’s neighbours: from what they tell me, the European gas transmission system beats as one big, resilient heart. I have no fear that this system would be unable to continue to deliver on its important role and rise to all the challenges posed by the forthcoming climate neutrality targets through sustainable technology integration and sector coupling. The corona-era experience has brought a new understanding of the importance of working together, and what has been said repeatedly in the past days and weeks most definitely holds true for the energy sector: Together we can.
What I would like to see in the Slovenian energy industry after coronavirus is more effective networking by key players, also in terms of system and infrastructure integration. Collaboration in the field of new technological processes is essential, and it is only together that we can pave a new way forward. In the very near future, natural gas will be complemented by renewable gasses – to a large extent by domestic gasses produced in Slovenia, I dare say. All of us working in the energy industry are faced with a serious challenge, and I am confident that together we can rise to it. By delivering a strong response to the pandemic and by effectively shifting to the new working arrangements to ensure seamless operation of the key infrastructure, each entity has managed to remain a smoothly functioning, highly reliable part of the supply chain. In a way, the pandemic has confined us within our borders, yet this is exactly what provides a new opportunity to tap into domestic resources. At the same time, every member this community can face the future with confidence, knowing that we are part of a well-functioning European system.
In conclusion, let me applaud the employees of all energy companies in Slovenia for smooth system operation, all the executives for good process management in these challenging conditions, and all system users and consumers, especially those who understand us and share our opinion even if they are not directly engaged in Slovenia’s energy supply processes. Yes, together we can.
Marjan Eberlinc is the General Manager of the Plinovodi d.o.o.
The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Energetika.NET.
This article is available also in Slovene.
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