Bright sparks

by Isabella Lee

Anson Tong, acting system control engineer, system operation
CLP Power Hong Kong Ltd
Photo: Edde Ngan

Coordinated control the only way for one illuminated service provider

Maintaining a safe, uninterrupted electricity supply is of paramount importance if an organised society is to prosper. CLP Power Hong Kong Limited (CLP) has the daunting task of coordinating 80 per cent of local power needs for more than two million consumer units in its vast network.

With the goal of delivering a highly reliable electricity supply to its customers, CLP ensures the safe, secure and efficient operation of its power system via its system control centre (SCC), one of the world's most advanced power system control hubs.

Located in Strafford House in Tai Po, the operation nerve centre of CLP that plays such a key role in directing, monitoring and controlling real-time generation, transmission and distribution of electricity on a minute-by-minute basis, is managed by a team of professional engineers.

Electrical lifeline

"Our mission to manage the network and handle unexpected system irregularities in order to deliver high standard services to numerous end users is of great importance to me," says Anson Tong, acting system control engineer of CLP's system operation department. "Electricity in the community is as important as the blood circulation in our bodies. At any one moment, movement, health and growth are directly influenced by its state."

With service excellence in mind, Mr Tong's team is responsible for formulating and implementing strategic operational plans, tackling system faults or abnormalities and expediently restoring the electricity supply in the advent of power interruptions. The team also needs to dispatch electricity economically and coordinate new plant commissioning, maintenance and emergency services as well as control access to the power system to provide a safe environment for operation, repair and maintenance work.

Since the manoeuvre of the SCC is highly dependent on myriad data transmissions around the clock, effective deployment of information technology is vital to assure smooth operations. As such, computers in the energy management system (EMS) communicate with microcomputer-based remote terminal units (RTU) in power stations and transmission substations via an extensive telecommunications network. Essential real-time system data is transmitted back to the EMS to facilitate system monitoring, and control commands are sent to RTUs to enable remote operation of the power system.

Also installed in the SCC, a separate distribution management system (DMS) carries out real-time supervisory control and data acquisition functions on distribution equipment that eventually delivers electricity to customers. It is among the largest systems of its kind, comprising RTUs in customer substations throughout the distribution network.

In addition, feature support systems, such as the lightning location system that records the whereabouts and timing of lightning strikes in Hong Kong, provide real-time information to enhance the decision making processes.

Continuous improvement

"Although we have all the supporting hardware and data at our fingertips, the right decisions still depend on our expertise," Mr Tong explains. "A clear mind, logical thinking and composure are therefore essential traits our engineers must possess."

Due to the continuous operational nature of the SCC, engineers looking for a nine to five work schedule may need to alter their mindset. "Naturally, people may hesitate, preferring a more regular lifestyle," Mr Tong notes. "Personally though, I regard the hours as an added plus instead of a drawback. Shopping mid-week without squeezing through crowds is a luxury."

While the job package includes shift duties, it also comes with a structured career path where people have the opportunity to advance both vertically and horizontally within the company.

"I joined CLP as a graduate trainee and completed the two-year programme before becoming an assistant engineer," Mr Tong recalls. "With accumulated experience, I landed my current post, and now I am ready for promotion to system control engineer," he reveals.

Meanwhile, there are abundant opportunities for CLP engineers for further advancement, whether via job rotation or through the company's employee education initiatives. Indeed, in order to perform more effectively in a higher position, Mr Tong has enrolled in programmes focusing on management skills and risk management.

Certain soft skills are just as important as technical knowledge for an engineer nowadays. Mr Tong asserts, "We do not only analyse computer data and process figures in our daily tasks; we also serve the public and remain accountable within the company. Communication and presentation have therefore become a bigger part of our role today."


Taken from Career Times 06 June 2008, p. B2
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