Can you tell us how you came to join National Grid ESO and your initial roles?
I studied mechanical engineering and then joined on the graduate scheme 10 years ago. The majority of my time has been spent in what is now the ESO.
Many of my colleagues studied electrical rather than mechanical engineering. I soon found parallels between both, and in a way my background allows me to see things in a different way – big picture thinking and seeing how things work together rather than focusing only on the detail.
Following the graduate scheme, my first role was Network Access Planning (NAP).
Since then I’ve actually been in quite a few roles! The next of which fed nicely from NAP, Market Requirements (Constraints Analysis). This team takes the work that NAP does and looks at the commercial element- what constraints will cost us financially.
Then I did something totally different! I worked with a number of teams on their Performance Excellence deployment. It was a mix of training in the tools, coaching for managers and team members and working with the teams to identify and plan process improvements.
It was an incredibly hard challenge and a massive change from my previous experience in operational roles. Looking back, it’s really helped my development.
I then went back to constraints before moving into my current role as Performance Review Manager in April 2019.
Tell us about your current role?
The aim is to bring to life the decisions our control room makes.
My responsibility is to lead the team looking into all the actions we’ve taken in the control room alongside what the situation was in real time. We build a picture of why actions were taken and convey this to the regulator as evidence for our incentive performance and to the wider market to meet our obligations and to increase the transparency of our operational decision making.
We focus on how we can apply what we have learned in order to strive for making better decisions in the future. We look back over the past day, week, month and occasionally year. When we issued Electricity Margin Notices in November, we looked closely at the processes we went through – was the process the best that it could be, did we provide the right information to the market, and did we have to make extra decisions that we didn’t have planned?
We also look after our incentives performance of balancing costs. This is what we should be spending to balance the system. We report monthly and explain why we’re either above or below the benchmark. We provide details of the actions we’ve taken to reduce costs and what has caused additional costs.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you?
Suppressed demand due to COVID-19 has created challenges operationally. We all did a lot of planning in the spring and everyone has worked tirelessly through the summer months to support the operation of the system.
I mentioned that we have to report on what actions we took and why. As you can imagine the volume of actions in 2020 has been significant and the cost of balancing the system and managing all of the operability challenges has meant that our balancing costs are considerably higher than in previous years.
We anticipate a continued high volume of actions on the system as we navigate our way through this most recent lockdown.
On a personal level, it’s been tough for everyone. Most of us haven’t been able to see family, friends or connect with other people as we would normally want to. And of course, no holidays.
I have a three-year and two-year year old, so you can probably imagine it’s been hard work at times! It’s been good to spend more time with them, but I do find it impossible to work with two small kids climbing all over me!
The benefit of working from home has been the lack of commute and being able to spend more quality time with the kids.
I’d like to return to the office. I’m on calls and video conferences all day yet don’t feel as connected to people as I used to. You can’t sense how people are feeling and pick up those little signs you do face to face. Let’s hope 2021 is a very different year to 2020.