Keeping the lights on
How our crews respond to unplanned power outages
When the power goes out at home, what actually happens to get your electricity restored? ActewAGL Distribution’s Clinton McAlister looks after our field crew and explains what can cause an outage, how our crews respond and what they do to get your power back on.
Blackouts in Canberra aren’t nearly as common as other cities in Australia. In fact, the electricity network here is one of the most reliable, according to the Australian Energy Regulator. That doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating or inconvenient when the lights go out. Our crews certainly know that, and they will always work safely and as quickly as possible to restore power for you when a power outage occurs.
Clinton explained there are a number of main causes to blackouts in Canberra. “Trees and tree branches falling onto poles and powerlines are by far the biggest cause of power outages. It’s why we ask everyone to keep their trees and vegetation at least 1.5 metres from lines and poles.
“The other causes are nasty weather, equipment failures, damage by third parties and surprisingly things like animals that unfortunately come in contact with our wires causing damage.”
There are smart devices embedded within key components of the network, which instantaneously detect faults and switch the power off. These devices can provide information to determine the type of fault or potential location of the problem.
“If it’s not a tree on the line or the fault is on the underground network, we’ll use a technique known as fault switching to figure out where the fault has occurred. By switching power on and off, we can locate the issue down to which pole, powerline or underground cable. It explains why some customers can experience their power turning on and off again after a blackout,” Clinton says.
“Other faults on the network may only be identified when a customer calls us to report that their area is without electricity. Getting those calls is really useful – even if it’s something as simple as the customer telling us they heard a loud bang outside their house and now they don’t have any power.”
When it comes to responding to blackouts, our crews’ first priority is to ensure there is no risk to themselves or residents, followed closely by getting power back on to as many customers as possible.
“After an initial outage, we’re able to restore power to the majority of customers in the area by switching them onto another feeder. A feeder is the link between a substation that supplies electricity and your home. Once the affected area is isolated from the network, our crews assess the damage or problem.
“Repairing damage can range from minor fixes to complete replacement of some of our poles and lines. For example, when a tree falls on powerlines, it can send shock waves down the lines and damage a number of nearby poles and wires. When this happens a pole inspector visits the site to assess if the pole is safe to climb.
“If safe, our crews get to work to fix the damage. If the pole isn’t safe, because it might be too damaged to climb or energised and therefore dangerous to touch, we need to get an elevated work platform – also known as a cherry picker – to safely get our crews close to the poles without needing to come in contact with them.”
Clinton explains that sometimes a job can take hours because the type of damage means the asset needs to be replaced altogether. When this happens, crews sometimes work hard overnight to restore power in the area. In this situation they may have to come back the next day and switch off power while replacing the damaged pole with a new one. With a new pole and the problem trees removed, the chance of a blackout in that area again is reduced.
“I think it’s good to remember our crews respond 24/7 to power outages, and unfortunately it can mean being out in conditions that most of us wouldn’t want to experience. Repairing damage can be challenging in rough weather, night time or even days where it’s extremely hot or cold. Fortunately our crews are trained for these situations – but it doesn’t make it enjoyable when they’re being hailed on.”
Compared to other cities in Australia, Canberra has the fewest blackouts. But when you deal with things like trees, weather or adventurous animals, a blackout could happen at your place and that’s when we ask for your patience, and to have a battery powered torch nearby. And if you do experience a blackout, you can be assured that our crews are committed – rain, hail or shine – to get the power back on for you as quickly and safely as possible.
Call the emergencies and faults number on 13 10 93 if you need to report a power outage.