What does it take to keep the lights on, and the Wi-Fi connected?
At the centre of powering island life is Guernsey Electricity’s Control Room. Our Control Room Operator Chester Dodsworth shares some of the best kept secrets of working in our island’s energy hub.
I’m part of a tight knit three-person team, with six teams in total.
The other roles working together to make sure the island has power 24/7 are a Shift Engineer and a Shift Operator.
The Shift Engineer is responsible for the team and the safety of all staff working on site. They are authorised to carry out the operation of all plant that makes up the Power Station.
The Shift Operator, who is either a mechanically or electrically trained craftsman, supports the Shift Engineer in this process by physically monitoring the electricity generators and ancillary plant. This involves carrying out planned or unplanned maintenance tasks and preparing our generators for operation or undertaking shutdown procedures.
The team communicate by handheld radio and ensure security of the power station at all times.
I enjoy working as part of a team that is integral to the daily life of islanders.
I take great satisfaction in correctly predicting island electricity demand to ensure the power station is only brought online when it is necessary. And when this is the case, generators are run efficiently to minimise the need for further on-island generation, reducing the environmental impact.
I also enjoy communicating with different areas of the business and helping customers find solutions over the phone.
I’m here to supervise the Control Room at the Vale Power Station, which is a 24/7, 365-day task carried out by one of six Control Room Operators. We work on six-week shift rotas, made up of shifts from 7am until 2pm, 2pm until 10pm and 10pm until 7am.
And yes, that can sometimes include Christmas Day!
Generally, the busiest period for us is during the colder, darker winter months when islanders are demanding more electricity.
When our electricity importation from Europe (via Jersey) reaches its 60MW maximum, we have to supplement the additional power demand using the fossil-fuel generators at the power station.
We also need to respond to more electricity faults during winter, due to wet weather affecting the cables buried underground, and generally there is more demand on the electricity network during this period.
But realistically, any time of year can keep the control room busy when keeping tabs on a network serving over 63,000 people.
If you’ve ever called Guernsey Electricity outside of normal office hours, you may have spoken to me.
We answer customer calls out of hours. If there are issues with equipment at home that can’t be rectified over the phone, I’ll send out the electricians or plumbers if necessary.
My team are also responsible for responding to alarms for both electricity distribution and generation systems. This may include alarms from high voltage network faults, abnormal generator conditions, auxiliary equipment located at the power station, or substation fire alarms.
If there is a wider electricity network fault affecting several customers at once, we’ll call out our distribution engineers who head out in all conditions to make the necessary repairs. This could also involve handling large-scale or island-wide power disruptions, although these are less common.
Other tasks include adding generators to the electricity network, which is a process we call ‘synchronising’, half-hourly logging various readings from Substations, and monitoring Power Station and Substation CCTV and door access systems.
My first job is to deal with phone calls from customers with no electricity.
Once the area that is affected by the fault has been established, I’ll then dispatch the standby distribution team to assess the fault and restore power. For low voltage (LV) issues (anything below 1000 volts), I may also send out our social media messages to notify customers. For larger-scale high voltage (HV) faults, we follow Guernsey Electricity’s Business Continuity Plan to alert staff and customers of the problem via text message and social media, and use remotely operated, high voltage circuit breakers under instruction from authorised engineers where necessary.
If the issue is from a ‘Bulk Supply Point’ - or has caused an island-wide disruption – the team follow Company restoration procedures and may use dedicated emergency generators to safely restore power supplies.
If you're wondering what a Bulk Supply Point looks like, have a look at the bottom of Cambridge Park next time you visit Beau Sejour as this unit can supply around 25% of the island with electricity! The below photo was taken when two 29 tonne electricity transformers were delivered to Beau Sejour in 2021 to complete a network enhancement project.
The Control Room Operators at Guernsey Electricity all have varying electrical or mechanical backgrounds.
For me personally, I’ve spent my 14-year career with Guernsey Electricity working in the Power Station in various roles, starting from when I was an apprentice electrician aged 16. An understanding of electricity fundamentals has been really useful for this role, and I’ve also picked up a lot of knowledge that is unique to Guernsey’s sole distributor of electricity.
A good mechanical awareness has also been helpful for identifying and prioritising alarms on generators. There is a training period with a structured training record to guide you through this initial stage, and an independent assessment to make sure you’re able to complete tasks before taking up the role.
A suitable candidate for a Control Room Operator role can work under pressure, manage various tasks at once, and have good communication skills.
One of the best benefits for me as a Control Room Operator is the shift pattern. The good work/life balance it offers means I can enjoy more valuable time with my daughters than I could if I worked regular hours.
Other perks are the pension scheme and health insurance, the ability to buy extra annual holiday, and a wide variety of sports and social events that cater to different interests.
I’m also a prolific winner of the Sports and Social club monthly raffle!
Being a Control Room Operator for Guernsey Electricity is a unique, rare, and eye-opening opportunity.
The people you work with are great and are more than willing to share their vast knowledge and experience with you. You’ll also acquire new understanding and skills and feel like you are truly playing your part for the island of Guernsey.
Find out more about joining this team.
Interested in another role at Guernsey Electricity?