My Winter – Overhead Linesman Sean Harrington-Thorley
Sean Harrington-Thorley is an Overhead Linesman for Western Power Distribution, the electricity network for the Midlands.
Keeping the lights on over winter
Whether it’s storms, floods, snow or simply a prolonged cold spell, we need reliable energy to keep our homes warm and the lights on. When extreme weather hits, my job is to make sure we keep the energy flowing and ensure families stay warm and safe. I work outdoors all year round, and I’m responsible for installing and repairing overhead electricity lines to maintain power transmission, distribution and the supply network.
For the electricity networks, bad weather in winter can increase the likelihood of power cuts. We make sure that we prepare ourselves by monitoring weather forecasts and have plans in place to deal with any situation and restore power supplies quickly and safely.
Preparation for winter is key
In the last few months, our team spend a lot of time ensuring tree trimming work is done, to remove overgrowing and/or dead trees near our overhead power lines. This helps to reduce tree-related damage to our overhead lines and equipment, reducing the number and length of power cuts. If the weather forecast looks bad linesmen are asked to take on extra standby duties, so if faults happen out of work hours on the network we have the extra manpower we need to get customers back on supply as quickly as possible. British networks are among the most reliable in the world, and the average length of a power interruption is just 40 minutes* – we want to make sure people are off supply for as little time as possible in bad weather.
Outside of work, I tend to prepare in boring but practical ways such as bleeding the radiators and digging over the garden. I do find great joy in amassing logs over the year to help heat my house through the winter. It’s good to be prepared.
The challenges of winter weather
Snow, lightning, strong winds and rain each bring their own challenges, but we have the right people, equipment and technology to help us to keep the lights on. Strong winds can blow trees and debris onto overhead lines and down wooden poles. Ice and the freeze/thaw factor can also damage our equipment. Basically winter likes to break anything that’s man made. It means that we can be busy but for me it’s exciting.
If the weather is bad, there may be a few jobs to attend to in order to get the power back on quickly for customers. You have to drive around the countryside, work closely as a team and battle the elements to go up poles and fix overhead lines. Working outside on the electricity network over winter is tough. Working in the ice and rain while handling cold steel work can be tough - I have not yet managed to find a pair of gloves that save my fingers from wanting to fall off!
The diesel run night heaters we have installed in our land rovers are an absolute godsend during the winter months. Whether we’re drying out our wet clothes and boots or simply trying to get warm when we get back in the van for lunch, the heaters are the best thing since sliced bread!
Top tips for preparing for winter
This winter, ENA (Energy Networks Association) has established the Winter Resilience Committee to help people stay warm and safe throughout the winter months. The Committee will be sharing regular winter safety advice throughout the season, to ensure those most in need are prepared for cold and stormy weather. We are calling on the public to take these three steps:
1. Know your free emergency numbers. In a power cut dial 105 or, for a gas emergency, dial 0800 111 999.
2. Prepare your home. Keep a torch handy and get your appliances serviced by a Gas Safe registered engineer to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
3. Keep your eyes open. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and, if you have a power cut or a gas emergency, check on your neighbours.
* source - Aldersgate Group & UCL, Feb 2018
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