CASE STUDY

Powering digital transformation to enhance the employee experience

COMPANY

Duke Energy

INDUSTRY

Energy

Duke Energy is reimagining training, recruitment, and more with virtual reality and Oculus for Business.

How Duke Energy is advancing digital transformation with help from Oculus for Business.

One of the largest electric power holding companies in the U.S., Duke Energy provides electric and gas to millions of customers across seven states. The company is modernizing its energy grid, generating clean energy, and speeding up its effort to reduce the effects of climate change with a new goal to cut carbon emissions from electricity generation to net-zero by 2050. It’s also pursuing a digital transformation to deliver better experiences for customers and employees. The strategy includes leveraging cutting-edge technologies like virtual reality for training, workforce development, and more.
When the team at Duke Energy’s XR Lab started their VR journey, they knew what was required for success.
“Tethered VR hardware wasn’t going to be palatable or scalable enterprise-wide, so we needed a mobile solution,” says John McGuire, Senior IT Architect. “We needed to reduce the cost of entry and improve the user experience — without spending several thousand dollars on high-power graphics servers. We needed programmatic support with APIs, drivers, and other development tools to help us build our platform. And we needed to be able to engage with hardware experts for support.”
The team found what they were looking for in the Oculus for Business offering, and they started building VR apps for Oculus Quest headsets.
AFTER GOING THROUGH THE FIRST VR TRAINING APPLICATION,
94% OF TRAINEES
SAID IT WOULD HELP THEM DO THEIR JOBS BETTER

Improving employee safety with VR training

“Many of our field employees work in nuclear and natural gas power plants, as well as solar and wind farms. We have a lot of procedures in place to keep employees safe and reinforcing those procedures is really important to us — safety is ingrained in our culture.”
The XR Lab first developed a VR training simulation to better prepare natural gas technicians for hazardous environments. In this application, users don proper personal protective equipment (PPE), ensure there aren’t sources that could ignite the natural gas, and practice purging a gas line using compressed air as well as natural gas. Following the initial app’s success, the XR Lab developed both a wind power and gas technician application. The former allows practice shutting down a substation, while the latter features opportunities to inspect for leaks, encroachments, and other hazardous conditions around gas pipes.
“VR gives trainees a safe place to make mistakes, correct them, and learn,” McGuire says. “They can feel the effects of messing up without actually getting hurt.”
Elizabeth Escobar-Fernandes is a software engineering manager who helped bring the apps to life. “Trainees are building muscle memory in VR,” she says. “It’s so immersive — the Oculus Quest hardware and our VR software make everything look and feel so real. The first time trainees go out in the field, they feel they’ve done it before. They have more confidence, and they know which mistakes to avoid.”
Despite initial concerns that the pandemic could hinder VR adoption, the opposite happened. In collaboration with the enterprise Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) experts, Duke Energy developed safety guidelines to properly sanitize VR hardware — and created a safe and effective medium for teammates to come together and collaborate. Gas pipe inspection training was previously done in the field, with instructor and trainee riding for miles in an ATV where they couldn’t sit six feet apart. Now, instructors can offer the same training in VR from the company’s Operations Center. “There’s more value in VR use cases now because they allow everyone to socially distance,” says Escobar-Fernandes.

Duke Energy’s Superpowers

Spatial Memory

High Stakes, Less Risk

Possible Impossible Scenarios

VR gives trainees a safe place to make mistakes, correct them, and learn. They can feel the effects of messing up without actually getting hurt.”

JOHN MCGUIRE
Senior IT Architect, Duke Energy
©  Facebook Technologies, LLC.