We know a proud history does not guarantee a prosperous future. So we are not just keeping up with the changing times — we are setting the pace by driving forward innovations that will benefit our customers, our investors, and the communities we serve.
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What you should know
We have a clearly defined innovation strategy.
We are creating a culture that encourages employees to innovate.
We seek out industry disruptors and external partnerships to sharpen our innovation skills.
We have created an array of internal programs to drive innovation forward.
Merely doing what we have always done is not an option — no matter how well we do it. We know the world moves on, and companies need to stay abreast of the times. Changing customer behavior, lower barriers to entry and new technologies and marketplaces are disrupting or upending traditional business models. While Dominion Energy currently enjoys success, we know a proud history will not guarantee a prosperous future. Progress in the years ahead will not be shaped by the strength of our legacy, but by how well we embrace innovation.
At Dominion Energy, we do more than stay abreast of the times — we drive change forward.
“The world’s leading experts on accelerating technology are consistently finding themselves too conservative in their predictions about the future of technology.”
Our company is determined to create changes that improve our customers’ experience, exceed our stakeholders’ expectations, and position our company for sustainable, agile, and long-term success. We need not only to foresee technological advancements, but to develop them in order to find new and better ways of serving our customers and bringing them value.
Dominion Energy’s vice president for innovation policy and development oversees a group of dedicated innovation professionals and works in support of our chief innovation officer. The company has crafted an innovation strategy built on three pillars:
- Grow the future;
- Enhance performance; and
- Accelerate the culture.
The strategy is designed to grow business and earnings by fostering a growth culture inside our organization, enhancing the assets that belong to it and developing partnerships and encouraging start-ups outside our organization.
Growing Business and Earnings
We are exploring new markets for our existing businesses, and new lines of business in adjacent or other markets. Some of the areas we are looking into include autonomous electric transportation as a community sustainability solution; blockchain technology as a potential improvement to settle renewable-energy transactions; distributed-energy solutions to maximize the value of renewables to the grid; and utilities and customer solutions focusing on using our assets to reduce our customers’ emissions. Other elements of our innovation strategy include innovation accelerators, external partnerships, and more.
The secret to innovation is not inspiration, but hard work. We do not sit around and wait for lightning to strike; we make things happen by taking action.
Innovation Guides and Accelerators
Each of Dominion Energy’s business units has an Innovation Guide — an employee who works with our Innovation Group to find and create innovative, sustainable value for the business. They help employees in the business units develop their skill sets, support crowdsourcing challenges, help individual contributors flesh out their ideas, and encourage collaboration on promising new ideas.
In 2019, the company extended what had been an Innovation Accelerator pilot program to all our business units. Innovation Accelerators are given training on how to foster idea generation. The accelerator program decentralizes innovation by relying on existing influencers, educators and coaches on the front lines — rather than exhortation from top leadership — to cultivate creative thinking at the grassroots level and in all corners of the business.
In addition to tripling idea generation, the accelerator program produced another benefit: Participants had the opportunity to hone their skills in communication and persuasion, and learned how to build relationships with internal and external partners alike.
The best ideas often percolate up from the people closest to the work. Dominion Energy has put this principle to use by issuing crowdsourcing challenges to solve existing problems or generate creative solutions to problems that might one day arise. The company completed 15 crowdsourcing challenges in 2018 and 40 in 2019.
In 2019 our annual Spark Tank innovation competition was won by Dean Combs, a design coordinator in electric distribution at Dominion Energy Virginia who describes himself as a natural-born tinkerer. Using a 3-D printer, Dean developed a device that allows designers to measure wire gauges digitally. It can replace a manual process that is nowhere near as accurate — and deliver improvements in productivity, safety, and reliability.
Our runner-up was David Cole, an engineering technician in Youngstown, Ohio. He developed a new insulated wrap for gas meters made out of recycled denim instead of fiberglass. The new wrap is better for the environment, reduces employee exposure to fiberglass, and helps eliminate waste. Moreover, the manufacturer of the prototype being tested is Goodwill Industries, which employs people who might face obstacles to finding work — enabling us to support an organization making a difference in our communities as well.
The company employs “sprint teams” to evaluate innovative technologies and business models. The teams typically last for several months or more but “mini” sprint team are sometimes used to evaluate a specific opportunity quickly. Cross-functional employees from across our footprint and business units staff the teams. Recent sprint teams have focused on innovations around energy storage, solar, 5G, transportation decarbonization, and agriculture.
With regular frequency the Innovation team will highlight various startup companies to relevant teams within Dominion Energy. This can take the form of direct pitches from the startups, Startup Showcase meetings where employees can vote on the merits of an idea, Startup Spotlight weekly newsletters detailing novel ideas, and inviting startups to participate in our annual Innovation Expo. The majority the startup ideas are related to sustainability in some form.
Because of such efforts, Dominion Energy’s achievements in innovation receive more than just internal recognition. In 2019, the company won a Technology Project of the Year award from RVATech for our strategic undergrounding virtual reality program, which shows customers what completed projects will look like before they are started — beating out competitors including Altria and Capital One. “This year’s winners all represent the most disruptive nominees in each category,” noted Richmond Technology Council executive director Nick Serfass.
The Nuclear Energy Institute gave Dominion Energy its 2019 Best-of-the-Best Top Innovative Practice Award for upgrading a pipe using carbon-reinforced polymer at Surry Power Station, which improved safety and lowered costs.
The Electric Power Research Institute presents annual Technology Transfer Awards to “recognize industry leaders and innovators who help companies transform research into results and solutions that can improve the efficiency of power plants, harden transmission and distribution equipment, improve cybersecurity, and enhance end-use electrification — all for the end-benefit of utility customers.” In early 2020, numerous Dominion Energy employees won the award for work done the previous year. The winners were:
- Luis Vega, Joe Hodges, and Jeff Inabinet, for implementing advanced power-quality monitoring tools;
- Mike Barnes and Gerald Warchol, for application of voltage control area and reactive power assessment software; and
- Jason Beck, for validation of overhead distribution designs for improved reliability and resiliency.
Innovation in Action
While we appreciate such recognition, we pursue innovation to produce tangible results. Here are some of the ways we are turning innovation into action.
- We have formed a partnership with Fairfax County, Va., to operate an autonomous electric shuttle that will extend the reach of the Metrorail public-transit system.
- In California in 2019, we implemented sheep grazing for vegetation management at one of our solar facilities. Early analysis suggests the venture was successful, so we are exploring the potential for an expanded version of the program elsewhere.
- In Ohio, a vacuum truck which initially was intended for leak repair in our natural-gas system was used innovatively to excavate and identify pressure sensing lines before projects are worked at pressure regulation stations — an important safety measure.
- We used Robotics Process Automation to deploy 25 bots, or automated programs, that will improve efficiencies and automate 24,000 hours of repetitive manual tasks.
- Our Workplace Sustainability Team surpassed 100 volunteer employee advocates, held seven zero-waste events (including our Innovation Expo), and diverted more than 34 tons of organic food waste from landfill to sustainable compost.
- We are using variable-voltage support devices to help better manage electric-transmission variability caused by non-dispatchable renewables.
- In Ohio, we are using a pilot project to test the Mueller NO-BLO Valve Changer, which allows the operator to replace a gas valve without any methane emissions. See video here.
- We are using camera-based Internet of Things technology and image analytics to monitor construction sites to detect environmental compliance events along silt fences.
- In 2019, Dominion Energy Ohio made an initial investment in Advanced Mobile Leak Equipment as part of a multiyear initiative. This technology will enable us to conduct leak surveys from vehicles (at speeds up 55 mph) rather than walking surveys, identifying leak indications in a more efficient manner.
- In 2019, Dominion Energy introduced the BrightSuite brand in Virginia. BrightSuite is an unregulated subsidiary of Dominion Energy established to bring innovative products and services to customers across the company’s footprint. The business launched with security and automation services for homes and businesses. We quickly expanded to include commercial solar solutions and continue to evaluate additional behind-the-meter opportunities to add to the portfolio of offerings.
- We are using big-data predictive analytics at our Brunswick Power Station to provide early warnings about changes in gas quality that might trip individual turbines, thereby providing greater station reliability.
- In November 2019 at our Mt. Storm power station in West Virginia, we used a wall-climbing robot to perform ultrasonic thickness measurement testing on the Unit 1 boiler’s front and rear lower slope tubes. The purpose of the inspection was to determine the effects of ash erosion on the slope tubes. Using the robot lowered costs by eliminating the need for extensive scaffolding. The robot, from Gecko Robotics, can inspect boilers, scrubbers, piping, and more for wall thickness, cracking, pitting, and other forms of degradation that could be impair reliability.
We also used a robot to remove suction piping debris from a gas compressor station in Chambersburg, Pa. In the span of a week, Dominion Energy and its partner in the project, Diakont, retrofitted two robotic inspection tools to remove foreign objects from entry points in pipes of different diameters.
We are using autonomous mowers to manage vegetation at solar generation sites and some corporate offices.
- Dominion Energy South Carolina launched a mobile app that enables customers to perform a variety of functions, from paying their bills and requesting service to reporting outages and checking their energy usage. As of the end of May 2020, roughly 85,000 customers have downloaded the app.
- DESC also is analyzing the use of drones for inspections. The South Carolina Department of Transportation requires above-ground pipes to be inspected four times a year; with 43 above-ground pipes, Dominion Energy needs to perform 172 inspections a year. Visual inspections are hazardous and provide no visual record. Drones can collect video and still footage. The demonstration phase of the project has been completed, and the business case is under review.
Dominion Energy has no monopoly on good ideas. We are always interested in what others are thinking and doing, and enthusiastic about helping them move projects forward. So we have a number of external partnerships, including these:
- We are a corporate partner with Plug and Play, a California venture-capital firm and innovation accelerator that advises corporations on their innovation practices.
- For 10 years, we have been the principal partner in the Dominion Energy Innovation Center with the Bio+Tech Research Park in three Virginia localities, including the City of Richmond, Hanover County, and the town of Ashland. The Center serves as a startup incubator and small business resource; it is currently home to roughly a dozen companies involved in everything from medical devices to accounting.
- We have a continuing partnership with Clemson University through the Dominion Energy Innovation Center in North Charleston, S.C., where much of the work focuses on grid reliability and wind-turbine research.
- We brought Babylon Micro-Farms — a modular-farming startup that uses controlled-environment hydroponics to grow herbs and greens in 15-square-foot growing cases — into our facilities to provide additional fresh, healthy produce for our employees.
- We encourage innovation through contests as well. In conjunction with Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., the Innovation Center conducts an annual pitch competition for startups. In 2019, we provided mentors for a “Get Into Innovation” challenge sponsored by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Energy Workforce Consortium.
Internal Mindsets and Skills
To encourage employees to think like innovators, the company has put various programs in place that foster new ways of looking at things. These include:
- Blue Ocean Brain — an online development platform where employees can take part in additional training at their own pace through micro-learning experiences and challenge their cognitive skills with game-like brain exercises.
- Design Thinking — an eight-hour Learning Management System class open to all employees.
- Knowledge Networks — collaboration groups that provide Dominion Energy employees with diverse backgrounds across the company with a way to connect and share ideas around a particular technology or focus area.
- The Chairman’s Excellence Award — an expansion of Dominion Energy’s IDeAs innovation program, which encourages creativity in any aspect of our business and helps employee inventors take new products and services to market, the Chairman’s Excellence Award recognizes employees who develop new ways to help the company save money, work more efficiently and effectively, or provide better service to our customers. It provides cash awards of up to $5,000.
As the energy industry evolves, we are paying careful attention to the business opportunities presented by new technologies, including:
- Small modular reactors, which offer cost, safety, and scalability benefits;
- Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), important tool for the achievement of net zero emissions; and
- Hydrogen, which is both a fuel and a carrier that can be used to store and transport energy. Opportunities exist in the production, transportation, and use of hydrogen to support a clean-energy future when it is produced from low- or no-carbon sources (e.g., excess renewable energy). For example, hydrogen can be used to co-fire natural gas generation.
“We don’t just want to keep up with the latest innovation and technology, we’re looking to lead the industry and etch innovation into the DNA of our culture. From the newest employee to our CEO, everyone is expected to have an innovative mindset.”
Mini Sprint Teams
Similar to the sprint teams described earlier in this report, mini sprint teams — composed of cross-functional employees from different business units — explore emerging technologies and business models, focusing on their potential benefits to the company and its stakeholders.