A day in the life of: An Energy Forecasting Manager

We’ve been speaking to ESO colleagues who are working to support the nation during the coronavirus pandemic. Next up is Oliwia Milek, Energy Forecasting Manager who gives an insight into what COVID-19 has meant for her.

What is the Energy Forecasting Manager responsible for?

I joined in February 2012 so have just passed my 8 year anniversary! My role is to provide the control room with the accurate forecasted national demand so as a business we can calculate how much electricity is required at any one time. The more accurate we are, the fewer actions there are to address imbalance. Along with my colleagues, I pass this information to the control room every single hour of the day.  We use mathematical models to forecast demand based on a relationship between the things that impact electricity demand and demand itself. We review the forecast models twice a year, when the clocks change. This is because at clock change the interaction between peoples’ daily routine of getting up, going to work and coming home again changes in relation to natures natural clock.

Once this has all been fed in, the control room schedule the power plants that are needed to balance the system. One thing we have to do is keep our eyes and ears open for external events and give special forecasts. We did a special forecast for the Harry and Meghan royal wedding, and we’ll do another forecast next time there is a major sporting event. We try to anticipate demand for by looking back at data from previous events. For example, if the FA Cup final is coming up, what did the demand look like 12 months ago for the same event?

How is your work helping Britain during the coronavirus outbreak?

It’s a really difficult time for forecasting because we don’t have past experience or data to look back on. The last time there was a global pandemic was in 1918 and electricity generation was a lot different 102 years ago!

We actually started planning for COVID-19  in early March, long before the lockdown came into force. We discuss the current situation twice a week with the UK Government and Ofgem. Also, my wider team runs weekly webinars discussing COVID-19 preparedness. Contrary to what one might expect, we’re seeing very low demand at the moment. This week, compared to what the demand would have been had there been no pandemic, it’s down around 15% in the day and 12.2% at night. This is because so many businesses and schools are closed. The weekend impact isn’t quite so bad because a lot of business and schools are usually close at the weekend anyway.

Since the lockdown began, we haven’t changed our approach to forecasting. The main challenge has been to work out the size of the demand drop. We’re seeing first signs that the drop has stabilised. The next challenge is going to be to forecast the demand as it returns to its “normal” level when the lockdown is lifted.

There have also been peaks due to special events such as the lockdown speech by the Prime Minister, the Queen’s address to the nation, and after the weekly Clap for Carers and key workers events too.  We’re also really proud that our lockdown demand scenarios from 17 March are as accurate as they have been.

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

As with most people, I’m now working from home all the time. It’s the same for most of my wider team. I’m having so many video conferences that I can hear the ringtone in my head! We’re not going to the control room anywhere at all as it’s all done by email, phone and video conference. It’s actually proved to us that we can do a lot more work at home than we thought. The only issue is that lots of people, including myself, are looking after young children while the schools and nurseries are closed. Naturally this makes us slightly less efficient, but we have to find a way to cope with it.

I’ve actually totally changed my working hours. I’ll get up early, work from 6am-10am and then take a break to look after my daughter. I’ll get started again in the afternoon and work into the evening.

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

Last time I saw my colleagues was in the middle of March. As part of the National Grid ESO business contingency procedure, all staff apart of the Control Room engineers are being asked to work from home. I speak to my team a lot via email, phone and video conference. It’s amazing how the technology is helping us when we are working remotely.

Biggest changes you have made since lockdown?

Every day is the same at the moment and it’s so repetitive! It’s important to not get into a routine of working and sitting around doing nothing at home. I’m making sure I get exercise by going for a run and taking my child and dog out to get some fresh air.

What does the future look like for you after lockdown?

I hardly ever used to work from home, but I think I’ll start doing it 1 or 2 days a week now. It’s nice to be at home and not be so distracted. It will be so liberating being able to drop my child to her nursery again! I’m looking forward to meeting my work colleagues again. I miss the office atmosphere and camaraderie.