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Italy: Grid operators turn control centres into campsites to keep coronavirus at bay

Last updated on March 27, 2020

MILAN/FRANKFURT: After a fortnight residing in a cell residence compound inbuilt simply three days by his employer, Italian fuel firm Snam, Guido Debattisti is returning residence.
The 37-year-old is a part of a crew of engineers sealed off throughout two-week shifts to make certain fuel faucets keep open – and buildings heat – throughout a coronavirus epidemic that has killed greater than 7,000 Italians and is sweeping Europe.

So far, the hastily-assembled plan at Snam’s control centre in Milan, which remotely operates 33,000 kilometres (21,000 miles) of fuel pipes throughout Italy, is working.

“The team working in the dispatching centre – made up of six people for each shift, as well as two colleagues connected remotely via Skype video-conferences – has succeeded in carrying out all activities related to grid control,” Debattisti informed Reuters, earlier than heading again to his residence in close by Pavia.

With nations throughout Europe in lockdown to attempt to include the virus, fuel and energy grid operators are scrambling to roll out emergency plans to make certain their control rooms are protected from an infection and may keep essential infrastructure operating.

Potentially at danger are greater than 12 million kilometres (km) of networks, or 31 occasions the space to the moon – Europe’s power nerve centre on which lots of of tens of millions of residential and business clients rely.

Adding to the headache is a plunge in demand as economies grind to a halt.

Because renewable power has precedence in supplying energy grids, this has meant wind and photo voltaic era offering a higher proportion of electrical energy than ever earlier than.

But these intermittent sources of energy make it more durable to keep grids secure, growing the danger of blackouts.

Debattisti, like the remainder of his crew, is screened earlier than beginning his shift to make certain he’s not contaminated.

After that, it’s lockdown within the compound with a kitchen and small canteen for consuming. In his 16 years at Snam, he has recognized nothing prefer it.


About 500 km to the north in Germany’s motor metropolis of Stuttgart, utility EnBW is contemplating an identical transfer to home key employees at the community control centre.

So far there’s been no want to do this, a spokeswoman stated, including all of the lodging preparations had nonetheless to be made.

Johannes Teyssen, chief government of Europe’s largest networks operator E.ON, stated lots of of workers had been ready to reside and work in dormitories and be saved in de-facto isolation to keep grids buzzing.

“It’s not going to be pleasant,” he informed journalists on Wednesday.

Italy’s energy grid supervisor Terna has a plan B and C to keep the electrons flowing on its 74,000 km excessive voltage community. The firm has six regional control rooms throughout the nation and two central ones in Rome, every of which operates three shifts.

Plan B includes shuffling round enterprise ought to any of the rooms go down, whereas plan C is triggered if two of the three common shifts are grounded – wherein case a crew is segregated in a centralised control room for 15-day durations residing in camper vans.

The system implies that with simply 20 per cent of employees, Terna ought to give you the chance to assure continuity of service.

At Austrian utility Wien Energie, measures have been notably drastic. There, 53 workers have agreed to reside aside from their households for doubtlessly a number of weeks to make certain crops can run easily.

They had been checked earlier than going into isolation at the ability stations, the place they are going to reside separated from the skin world, Wien Energie stated.

Poland’s energy grid operator, PSE, can also be taking radical steps to attempt to forestall staff from getting contaminated and to keep provides flowing.

“The level of security, especially regarding the employees’ movements within the premises of PSE, is analogous to the level that is launched during a high terrorist threat,” a spokeswoman stated.

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, entry to control rooms is being minimised and groups cut up to scale back the danger of cross-infection to keep power flowing, in accordance to the Energy Networks Association.


Alongside the danger of contagion, grid corporations are having to deal with a hunch in power demand.

Many industrial corporations, most notably carmakers and suppliers, are suspending manufacturing, hitting demand and placing a pressure on grids at a time when they’re already struggling to deal with a excessive proportion of intermittent renewable provides.

The drop in demand is robbing markets of a key supply of flexibility: industrial crops usually act as grid stabilisers by utilizing their very own energy turbines to assist stability much less dependable wind and photo voltaic inflows.

“System operators have developed ways to manage these challenges, but extraordinary developments – such as lockdowns of entire countries during global pandemics – create new tests,” Fatih Birol, government director of the International Energy Agency, stated earlier this week.

In Germany, Europe’s largest economic system, power consumption on March 23 was about 5 per cent decrease than the common for a similar day over the previous three years, business affiliation BDEW stated.

“People typically think of power outages as happening when demand overwhelms supply,” Birol stated. “But in fact, some of the most high-profile blackouts in recent times took place during periods of low demand.”

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