The people behind electricity: Part 2

As the season kicks into full summer mode, there’s something so wonderful about a burst of cool air. As we pause to take a closer look, it can be fascinating to think about what makes it possible for us to turn on the air conditioning, adjust our thermostat or switch on a ceiling fan. Further, it can also be interesting to learn about “who” can make it possible by taking a moment to think about the people behind the scenes, working to ensure a reliable supply of electricity to our community’s homes, businesses and in these unprecedented times, our essential services.

In part two of our quarterly series, spotlighting the people behind powering our city, we look at four key roles that focus specifically on the infrastructure and connections necessary to distribute power generated for the city.

Meter technician

Ever wonder about the little grey meter located on the outside of your house, who reads it, and how? These are electricity meters and they are responsible for measuring your household power consumption in order to accurately calculate your bill. It is these little guys that meter technicians are responsible for installing, operating, repairing, and testing for Hydro Ottawa customers. In order to regularly collect “automatic meter readings” (AMR), Hydro Ottawa has a computerized system for remotely reading these devices. Meter Technicians are responsible for the maintenance and operation of this remote network to ensure billing accuracy. Beyond residential meters, meter technicians also perform ongoing testing, troubleshooting, and verification on a variety of other metering equipment to ensure accuracy and to document their findings.

Power cable technician

Ever wonder why utility companies often send out reminders to “call before you dig”? A big reason for this is that there is a great deal of electrical infrastructure, namely cables, running through the underground areas of our city! Out of sight, out of mind, but not for power cable technicians! The teenage mutant ninja turtles of hydroelectricity, they often work in confined spaces, like manholes and trenches, to install and repair power cable equipment. Power cable technicians are responsible for installing, maintaining, operating, testing, and repairing electrical distribution systems including underground power cables, lightning arrestors, and more. They also splice, solder and insulate conductors to connect and extend these systems and networks.

Dam operator

What would we do without damn operators...I mean…dam operators? Apart from making the odd (terrible) joke with their job title, dam operators are responsible for maintaining a fixed water level upstream of the Chaudière Ring Dam by adding or removing stop logs. This particular dam was built between 1907 and 1909 has been staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year since it went into service. The stop log procedure is vital because it allows dam operators to: maintain water levels to have optimal flow through the generation plants, maintain water levels for the city water treatment plant on Lemieux Island, and prevent and/or control flooding in the city and surrounding areas – which was a big part of their job during the floods that took place in spring 2019 when water tables were exceptionally high during the winter thaw. Beyond this very important task, they also perform installation, repair, and maintenance work on dam machinery and equipment.

Distribution engineer

Distribution engineers are responsible for planning, designing, building, and monitoring electrical transmission and distribution systems. At Hydro Ottawa, there are three areas of focus for this role – asset planning, major projects, and reliability and maintenance.

  • Asset planning: Distribution engineers on the asset planning team have the challenging role of identifying system constraints and needs (capacity, reliability, operation and maintenance savings, etc.), evaluating possible solutions and then creating and prioritizing projects relating to the Hydro Ottawa distribution system. They aim for all monetary resources to be leveraged effectively in order to offer Hydro Ottawa customers and stakeholders the utmost value while minimizing any impacts on billing. They also play a supporting role in standards development, distribution design, regulatory affairs and system operations. As the city of Ottawa grows at an increasingly rapid rate, the asset planner’s role is only becoming more challenging. It is through their meticulous planning that all asset-related needs can be strategically addressed and prioritized so that Hydro Ottawa can continue to deliver electricity safely, reliably and efficiently.
  • Major projects: In the design phase of new power systems, distribution engineers on the major projects team determine electrical equipment needs and collaborate with the asset planning team for documenting asset requirements. When Hydro Ottawa unveils major project plans, this team is working behind the scenes to oversee the project from the planning stage through to completion. An example of a major project currently underway is the new municipal transformer station for Power South Nepean to address increasing electricity demands.
  • Reliability and maintenance: Some common terms you’ll hear distribution engineers on the reliability and maintenance team say are: voltage drop, short circuit, power factor, and sag. These are all things that they regularly look for, identify and manage for both new and existing infrastructure. They aim to put the pieces in place to ensure power can be delivered from point A to point B efficiently and without problems. Using their extensive knowledge of the system, when outages or malfunctions occur, they immediately step up to analyze the problem, counsel the team, and coordinate timely solutions.

In the midst of this physically isolating time, as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic together, it can be comforting to reflect on how we’re all connected. We hope that learning more about these power generating roles serves as an encouraging reminder of the incredible possibilities that come from hard work and determination.

To learn even more about the people behind electricity at Hydro Ottawa, check out part 1 and stay tuned for part 3 of this series.

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