National Grid ESO Angela hero

A day in the life of Angela Wilks, Power System Manager

We’ve been speaking to ESO colleagues who are working to support the nation during the Coronavirus pandemic. Next up is Angela Wilks. She works in a variety of roles in the Electricity National Control Centre, including as Power System Manager. Angela gives an insight into what COVID-19 has meant for her and how she came to work in our control room.

National Grid ESO Angela Wilks banner

How long have you worked for National Grid and what is your day to day role?

I first started working for National Grid in September 2006. Back then I was in the Network Access Planning (NAP) team. My role was to work two weeks ahead. I undertook detailed offline power system analysis studies of the transmission system with various transmission asset outage scenarios.

The results of the analysis were handed over to the Control Room in the form of a daily plan. The plan communicated the agreed strategy for Scotland and England and Wales to enable maintenance and capital investment works to be carried out, whilst ensuring system security and managing costs as economically as possible.

When developing the two week ahead plan we looked at many factors:

  • Probable electricity demand forecasts
  • Conventional generation running schedules
  • Extremes of transfers of electricity interconnectors from abroad
  • Renewable generation outputs
  • The combination of transmission asset outages that could be accommodated on the system whilst maintaining system security and quality of supply standards.

Network Access Planning encompasses studies assessing the impact of planned outages on the operation of the Grid. The studies model every asset that connects onto the grid including 400kV and 275kV overhead lines, cables, supergrid voltage transformers, substation circuit breakers, busbars and Balancing Mechanism Units (generators).

It greatly improved my geographical knowledge of Great Britain to learn where all the substations and power stations are. It even helped me win a small victory in a pub quiz tie breaker question once about which English town has the first iron bridge ever built! It’s Ironbridge if you weren’t sure…

All this outage planning allows us to calculate the constraints on the grid. The resulting plan includes a diagram of the transmission network with constraints drawn across it as brightly coloured lines. This plan is actually called a Picasso! It’s basically a simple diagram conveying complicated information at a glance by clearly and concisely showing transmission pinch points, issues and outages.

In 2013, I moved to work in the Control Room. The Control Room has an intense training process for each role. My first role was training as the Operational Energy Manager.  The training process can involve working through simulations in the Control Training Unit away from the live system. Other training methods include sitting with experienced colleagues on shift, to learn from them and progressively take over the responsibilities on the desks until you’ve the skills and experience to manage the desk and team without support.

Before being authorised to manage a Control Room desk alone, there’s the small matter of a session in the Control Training Unit where you have scenarios thrown at you in the simulator to assess your actions and an authorisation panel.  The authorisation panel’s role is to interview you to make sure you understand all the complexity of the network and have the required levels of knowledge, skills and experience for the desk. It helped me that I already understood many of the workings due to my previous role in Network Access Planning.

The best thing about my job is the people I work with. I love my job but it can be full on and tiring.

What effect has Coronavirus had on the relationship with your team?

We’ve been working with all areas of the business to plan, bring together subject matter expertise and prepare due to the low demand we’re seeing.  Across the ESO there’s been great support for the Control Room to help us meet the system challenges the COVID-19 lock down has brought to the transmission system.

We have two control rooms in the south of England. Since the pandemic began we’ve been allocated a ‘home’ control room so that we’re mixing with fewer people and there is less impact if someone tests positive for COVID-19. We do have a camera that we use to virtually see and call each other if we need to.  It’s been interesting to see the team’s hair styles develop since lock down began. Personally, I’m really looking forward to the hair dressers re-opening!

We’re social distancing and have wipes and hand gel everywhere. We hot desk so we wipe everything down before starting a shift. We also can bring in our own mouse and keyboard for safety.

How has your day to day work changed during the outbreak?

I’m very fortunate as it’s not particularly different for me. The Control Room has continued working throughout the lockdown. I work on a 5-week rotating shift pattern. The first week is a mix of morning and evening shifts, then four night shifts. Week three goes into weekend night shifts followed by weekend day shifts, week 5 has two evening shifts and then five glorious consecutive days off! I use the times after morning shifts and before evening shifts for any project meetings and to catch up on admin such as emails and calls. I try to preserve my days off to unwind and relax at the end of each five-week cycle and to have a breather before it all starts again.

Personally, I love the shift patterns. You often get to see more of your family and parents with young families tend to see a lot more of their children.

It’s a challenge at the moment because of the low demand so we’re working hard on the demand forecasting. The demand is now starting to pick up as some people are returning to work.

We did a lot of planning for the recent Easter period and May Bank holidays. The recent school half term holidays were interesting. Usually during “non lockdown” half term we’d see a change in demand shape and a slower more gradual ramp in the morning pick up as more people are off work.  As there’s already many more people working from home, we did see a small change in demand shape but not as pronounced as usual.

Biggest changes you have made since lockdown?

I’m washing my hands a lot more!

I have two sons who both work so it’s nice that we can all leave the house. I have the utmost respect for people who have been at home with young children during lockdown.

It’s important to keep fit and I’m using the days at home for running and now playing tennis to keep fit.

Because I work shifts I do my shopping when most people are at work. I’m hating the huge queues outside supermarkets.

What does the future look like for you after lockdown?

Holidays! I miss the beach. I love driving to the coast. I have three weeks off work this month and I’d usually go abroad. I haven’t seen my parents or nieces and nephews since March. Now the lockdown is starting to ease, I’m planning to meet up with my family and organise a family get together and BBQ to catch up on missed birthday parties and spend some quality time with my parents.

I want to jump in the car and drive somewhere!