Image of man in control room

A day in the life of: Antonio Del Castillo, Operational Strategy Manager

We’ve been speaking to ESO colleagues who are working to support the nation during the coronavirus pandemic. Next up is Antonio Del Castillo, Operational Strategy Manager who gives an insight into what COVID-19 has meant for him....



What is the Operational Strategy Manager responsible for?

We have three teams in the control room - Transmission, Strategy and Energy. My job is to work with all teams to operate the network securely and economically. As soon as possible you train for another role to provide more flexibility. I started in Strategy and then also trained on Energy.

The Strategy team looks at transmission and energy elements of running the system around 4 to 18 hours ahead of time. The Energy and Transmission teams operate from real time to 4 hours ahead.

The Strategy team takes the outage plan from NAP (Network Access Planning) and calculates the network constraints and the limitations in moving power around. The Strategy team is also handed over the demand forecasting, what generators are available, the available contracts for the next week and lots more information from the Commercial team.

Everything comes together in the SOP (System Operating Plan) and TSOP (Transmission System Operating Plan). These plans are produced for every peak and trough during the day (8-10 cardinal points), which help us with things such as the evening peak. These have changed due to the lockdown, with a slight change on times with people working from home and not at the office, and a bigger on the size of the peaks, with unprecedented low demands.

I switch between both of my roles all the time. I may even do both roles in the same week. It’s often easier to do the same job for a few days in a row but even if you do one for a week you do the other the next week. The roles are similar, and I enjoy both.

What impact has coronavirus had on your role?

My job has become busier due to the low demand which has been 17-20% below what we’d usually expect. The network was built and has organically grown to meet the increased demand over decades. What we’ve seen is an unprecedented change in the behaviour of people which also changes energy usage. We’ve had to adjust how we operate the network as it wasn’t built for the low demand that we’ve seen since lockdown began.

It’s made the job more challenging and we’ve adjusted the way we do things. For example, we’ve contracted with units that we wouldn’t usually to turn off generation that isn’t needed. Some generation is more flexible than others.

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

I’m still going to the control room, but we’ve installed lots of precautions to reduce any risk of infection. Face masks, hand sanitiser and I’m washing my hands a lot. Some desks are closer, so they have plastic barriers. There is even a one-way system in and out of the control room!

My colleagues have been brilliant in not taking any risks at work and social distancing whenever not at home. Like all people they’ve also been keeping at home during lockdown when not working in the control room. We don’t take any risks personally because we don’t want to infect our family or control room colleagues.

I normally work between two control rooms. One is when I’m doing my energy role and one for strategy. During lockdown we have a ‘home’ control room so I don’t switch between control rooms as I usually would.

I work shifts which are good for me. I have two children aged 5 and 7 and I used to do half a day helping my kids’ class at the European school. I work with the teacher and teaching assistant mainly with reading. With the schools being shut I’ve not been able to do that, and I really miss it.

Not having a 9-5 job allows me to help with homework and do the school runs and really helps with my family life.

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

Lots of video calls! Normally I’d talk to colleagues a lot face to face. I haven’t seen many of my colleagues for three months now.

When I’m not in the control room I’m working from home.

Biggest changes you have made since lockdown?

I’m missing going into the school. My daughter is allowed back but my son isn’t, so we’ve kept them both off. My wife is furloughed so she can look after them when I’m working.

All my holiday plans were cancelled, and I’ve been stuck at home when not working. Going to the control room has been a nice break from that.

What’s the first think you’ll do after lockdown ends?

Get out of the house more. I’m looking forward to visiting my family in Spain.