Automation: a deeper dive into the tech that’s helping us improve the service we provide

Our commitment to delivering a safe and reliable supply of electricity for our customers means we're continually looking at ways of improving the service we provide.

The ongoing installation of automated technology across our network means we can greatly reduce the length of time customers are without electricity, on the rare occasion there’s a power cut.

Across SSEN’s operating regions in northern Scotland and central southern England, around 375,000 customers have seen the benefit of the company’s automation programme since April this year.

We know that our customers want a safe, reliable supply of electricity, and this automated equipment allows our Control Room engineers to remotely monitor our equipment as it keeps the power flowing across our network; it also alerts us to any faults that may develop, or damage that can sometimes be caused by windborne debris or bird strikes. 

On the rare occasions there is a fault which causes the power to go off, our automated equipment helps us get customers’ supplies back on more quickly, as it avoids the need for an engineer to travel to site to manually operate a switch or circuit breaker in order to re-route the power.

Our circuit breakers work along the same lines as the trip switches most customers will likely have in their own homes, that is if they detect a fault they will ‘operate’, turning the power off for safety and to protect the equipment from any damage.

During periods of severe weather, tree branches and other airborne debris can sometimes get blown onto our overhead lines, and throughout the year birds can occasionally strike the lines too, all of which will cause the circuit breakers to operate.

The circuit breakers are designed to detect if the branch or bird strike was just a fleeting glance and is no longer causing an issue (we call this a ‘transient fault’), or if the strike was more serious and requires an on-site visit to remedy. They do this by attempting to automatically reconnect the power a number of times and if, after the final attempt, the fault is still present, the power will stay off and it is at this point our automation will attempt to re-route the power automatically from an alternative part of the network. This means as many customers as possible can be restored prior to our engineers arriving on site to carry out the repairs.

We realise that when your electricity goes off for even the shortest time it can be frustrating or even alarming, as it can cause lights to flicker or power to dip, and it can also mean that you have to reset your timers and wifi. And so, as well as our investment in automation, to reduce the likelihood of any fault occurring, we are investing millions of pounds every year to keep trees and other vegetation away from our overhead lines and make our network as robust and resilient as possible.

Finally, while automation can alert us to damage on our equipment, safety is always our number one priority and so if you do come across a pole or overhead line that has been blown over,  or if you see a piece of equipment that just doesn’t look qute right, please stay well back and call us on 105.  We may already be aware of the situation and have an engineer on the way, but we’d far rather you stayed safe and gave us a call to let us know.

To see examples of our automated equipment and learn more about how it works, watch this short video from Ryan Milne, one of our team of Network Integrity Managers.

About the author

Matthew Mclauchlan

Matthew Mclauchlan is part of the System Development Team based within the North Distribution Control Centre. As a System Development Engineer, Matthew is responsible for maintaining and developing SSEN’s Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, which includes the testing & approval of our automation systems. This is a key part of our role in ensuring the safe & secure operation of the electricity system.

Read more articles by Matthew Mclauchlan