My shot bio: I work day to day designing, project managing power lines both overhead and underground, high and low voltage.

I am also a qualified high voltage operator and help manage the network like responding to quality of supply issues, faults that happen on our network and any other issues that needs attention.

Figured some people would be interested to learn about a job that doesn't get much attention, even when there are power lines everywhere!

My Proof: Sent to mods as to stay anonymous.

EDIT: Heading to bed will check back in the morning!

EDIT: Ok i'm up and at it now, will answer more questions shortly!

Comments: 132 • Responses: 58  • Date: 

a_guy_named_max12 karma

I thought it was a great idea! Whenever we have a fault that wont clear after some re-closes, we patrol the line. He is a clever man really.

EDIT: I'd do the same rather than die, but hopefully will never have to be in that position.

westkeifer2 karma

Couldn't he have just followed the lines

a_guy_named_max4 karma

Not always that simple. Not sure of the terrain there but it can still be very remote and impassable due to gullys, rivers etc. we have lines that you can't just follow for these reasons. Civilisation could still be 20,50km away!

K2TheM1 karma

Still have to know which way leads to civilization.

Alfonson6 karma mean there are power lines without civilization on one end?

K2TheM4 karma

I Should maybe be more clear.

While yes powerlines do run to and from civilization, how far away that civilization is can be a critical factor. Say it's a 10 mile hike in one direction and a 50 mile hike in the other. Which way you go could mean the difference between being found in a few hours, and being found in a few days. Depending on your supplies this could mean life or death.

Additionally, when lost in the wilderness it's not a good idea to move if you don't know where you are or which way to go. You'll expend less energy staying put and staying in a single spot will also increase your chances of not slipping through a search net.

westkeifer1 karma

Nice "save"

a_guy_named_max8 karma

We have power lines that run from ridge to ridge, hilltop to hilltop in remote and awful terrain. You couldn't just follow them, and they go for 10s of km before you will see anybody.

TheCompleteReference0 karma

You should actually read it. He was extremely unprepared to the point where it was clear recklessness.

He killed the power for a lot of people purely because he chose not to even be minimally prepared.

a_guy_named_max4 karma

Sorry I was aware of the story but didn't re-read it fully again. Yeah I don't disagree that it might have been stupid of him and was woefully unprepared. Its something that I would hope that I never get myself into...

But A lot of us would do something similar, rather than die? Its survival isn't it?

clearglasswater10 karma

What training or study did you complete to get this job?

Also have you heard of any freak accidents occur involving power lines?

a_guy_named_max10 karma

Training and the qualification was provided by my employer. Since the job is unique, no university or training facility operates a course here by its own. The formal training was set up by the distribution companies here in conjunction with a training facility.

You can get into the electricity industry with an electrical engineering degree, but keep an eye out for traineeships and apprenticeships with your local electricity transmission/distribution company.

DramDemon7 karma

How often do trees really hurt power lines? We just had people cut off half of 4 or 5 trees because the branches were around the power lines, and they look really weird.

a_guy_named_max7 karma

More often that we want unfortunately (we would like never). It really depends on the trees and the conductor involved, worst case is when the tree falls over/large branch falls onto the line and brings it to the ground. If the tree just brushes a high voltage line it could cause the feeder to re-close, interrupting customers.

Benzorg7 karma

Can you work in the rain?

a_guy_named_max8 karma

Prefer not to!

When I operate in the switchyards there is higher risk of injury, either from tracking of the power down operating sticks, or slipping up etc. The modern plastic/fibreglass operating sticks that we use now are way better than the old wood ones when it comes to minimising tracking in the wet. The older guys talk about being able to feel the electricity through the stick!

mcymo3 karma

The modern plastic/fibreglass operating sticks that we use now are way better than the old wood ones

What's an operating stick?

a_guy_named_max3 karma

Those are called a hot stick and are used by linesmen to to do live work on our lines at 22kV. My switch yard operating stick is very similar but about trice as long and used from the ground level to open up isolators. My stick is able to operate up to 66kV.

generalnow6 karma

were you ever electrocuted (on the job)? if yes, how so?

a_guy_named_max8 karma

I'm still alive aren't I?! Being electrocuted means you die. The short answer is no. Hopefully by being safe will get me home at night.

generalnow6 karma

sorry, I was meaning to ask if you ever received an electric shock; I didn't know electrocution meant necessary death (in french and other related languages it means that an electric current capable of harm OR death passes through the body... it does not HAVE to provoke even harm, mind you:)

a_guy_named_max7 karma

Its ok!

I have received a buzz many years ago when i touched a heatsink in a power supply. No idea what voltage it was, could have been 240v but could have been lower. Was not plesent at all!

When I operate in the switchyards I'm usually dealing with 22 or 66kV out in the yard or 240V DC, 120V & 24V DC in the control room. So I am extra careful!

I've seen what 22kV can do, even a minor injury is like 12 months off work with rehabilitation plus the pain with it. And the possible loss of use of a limb or hand etc. There is a linesman that just came back to work after 1.5 years off due to contact with 22kV and ground.

jayrtfm5 karma

How screwed will your grid be during the next Carrington Event? If management isn't doing anything to prevent damage, what can we do as consumers?

a_guy_named_max4 karma

Shit now you have me scarred!

In reality we would have engineers in our head office and the country's electricity regulators planning for something like this, I really don't know much about it, its high level planning not done at a local level.

I do know that transformers are pretty tough and rugged. From my limited understanding on this manner I have one idea... I guess what we could do is isolate many different parts of the network into smaller chunks while the storm is happening by opening switches and isolators. Thereby decreasing the catchment area of the power lines.

langben5 karma

Is it true that in Norway, they use powerlines that go in a big circel as a cover-up for troll contamination?

a_guy_named_max5 karma

troll contamination


langben3 karma

It's all described in this documentary

a_guy_named_max3 karma

Ohhhh It's on my must see list now! Thanks

skadishroom5 karma

How many amps go into a house?

Do you prefer to work on/with above or below ground power?

Horror stories about things in powerlines causing damage?

Lastly, when cars crash into the infrastructure, what kind of cost is it to repair if the whole pole/transformer gets taken out?


a_guy_named_max7 karma

Hey thanks for the questions!

  1. House current draw varies heaps throughout the day, generally most households I see peak at around 30A or so, but for short periods like in the morning when cooking and getting ready for work, and then the same in the evening. For most of the day most houses only draw 5A or so. Houses with floor heat draw the most, sometimes over 80A for a few hours!

  2. I'm not a lineworker, but its easier to maintain above ground as its easier to fault find and then access to repair etc. Underground is aesthetically pleasing, but not without its own issues!

  3. The ones that urk me the most is when animals or people get hurt... It happens sometimes. We have had one recently where somebody's dogs peed on a star picket post that had pierced an underground 240V cable... It was live... The dog died :(.

  4. Its expensive! HAVE INSURANCE please haha. Since linesmen are usually working on overtime during fault conditions, their rates are doubled, could be up for $10k easy, transformers themselves are between $1.5 and $10k for pole mounted.

mistertrustworthy1 karma

House current draw varies heaps throughout the day, generally most households I see peak at around 30A or so, but for short periods like in the morning when cooking and getting ready for work, and then the same in the evening. For most of the day most houses only draw 5A or so. Houses with floor heat draw the most, sometimes over 80A for a few hours!

Would the amperage figures be doubled (and voltage halved) in the US?

a_guy_named_max1 karma

Sorry missed your question. Yes! The disadvantage of USA using 110V is that it requires double the current (P = V x I). Hence more losses and more voltage drop per same length of conductor on the low voltage side of the conductor. High voltage distribution and transmission systems would be simular voltages country to country. Generally the older the part of the network, the lower voltage it would be.

Its hard just to upgrade the system however, so they might be stuck with it.

skadishroom1 karma

Thanks for the replies!

Where I used to live there was this one transformer that must have had a target on it, it would get damaged (by a car) usually once every 3 months. Those poor linesmen!

I thought they might cost more than that, the biggest 3rd party payout I had every seen at work was $18,000,000 and involved a coal train.

a_guy_named_max2 karma

If you were to replace the whole pole under fault conditions, for a pole type substation in town it would be around $25k or so. But then u have that are without supply and they could put claims in for loss of product or production. Could get nasty! We have more expensive things out there that would get hit like 'kiosk' transformers which would be about $50-80k to replace.

a_guy_named_max1 karma

They would call that a 'cash cow'! its a piece of infrastructure that has faults usually after hours, although replacing a transformer is not a quick task so they, and the customers would get sick of it being hit.


How often do you make jokes about the High Voltage song?

a_guy_named_max3 karma

Unfortunately... never!

Wow I feel horrible


Its okay. I forgive you. At least now you can make a start on the lost time.

a_guy_named_max2 karma

I will play it every day I promise

the_Phloop3 karma

Does shoe tossing have any impact on your job? Does it have any effect on your design plans at all?

a_guy_named_max4 karma

Haha not really, since the laces are not long enough it never really causes a phase to phase fault... When we notice them we just go remove them, they could be up for years and not have any impact!

FeatofClay3 karma

How often do critters get fried from the equipment, and do you ever feel bad for them, or does their demise create too many problems for you to feel sympathy?

Bracing to feel bad about squirrels....

a_guy_named_max3 karma

All the time. Of course you feel a little bad, but its wildlife that you don't have much of a connection with really. For the most part its out of sight, out of mind.

I would say half our faults are caused by animals, in a rural area. We have upgraded our 22kV network to reduce the likelihood over the last 15 years or so and always find new ways to avoid faults from animals where possible. For example use insulated leads that run from the overhead line down to the transformer.

FeatofClay3 karma

Another one: Do you laugh at the brownout scene in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation? Or is it too stupid to be funny to a professional?

a_guy_named_max4 karma

Nah its still cracks me up!

But yes there is that thought in your head now. 'No that's not how it works' and spend 10 minutes explaining it to my girl who doesn't care.

whasupjohn3 karma


a_guy_named_max3 karma

  1. I can only speak for Australian voltages, sounds like you are referring to USA? We have single phase 240V & 480V. The 480V is only found on single phase transformers with two active LV bushings at 180 degrees apart, IE 240+240=480. Only found in rural areas, and used for older welders, pumps, ovens etc. Of course homes can have three phase as well, 415V over here.

  2. Voltages vary depending on distribution/transmission companies standards, and also how old parts of the grid are. In our network there at the following: 500kV, 330kV, 275kV, 220kV, 66kV, 22kV, 11.7kV (SWER), and a small amount of 11kV & 6.6kV. They are broken up into categories like, Transmission 500->220, Sub Transmission 66, and distribution 22-> 6.6. Also there are DC interconnection cables which travel decent distances, like a few hunderd km and interconnect different grids up.

  3. The largest project I have worked on is small in the grand scheme of things, approx $300K or so. Every job is unique I have found. Some require Ariel earths as the ground earth is shitty, some have environmentally sensitive areas you have to design around, bickering neighbors, additional lightning protection which ment heavily shielded cables. I have quickly learnt not to piss off my neighbours when buying a new block of land, they can make your life hell!

I'll have a think and get back to you and provide an interesting job!

mistertrustworthy3 karma

What's an Ariel earth?

a_guy_named_max2 karma

A lot of our infrasture has to have a good connection to earth, for example at transfomers. Some of the ground has 'poor earthing' where the resistance to earth is high and we have to run copper cables in the ground for longer and longer lengths to get it down to 10 ohms or so. If we know an area has poor earthing, we can link up all our poles with an ariel earth, usually below the active conductors, and can sometimes have optic fiber in the middle of it. This can be a better solution than installing a massive long run of underground earth cable at every concrete pole or substation pole.

whasupjohn2 karma


a_guy_named_max3 karma

I love it idea of generation from renewable sources only.

But I can't see how this proposal would work in the real world for a number of reasons.

  1. Solar and wind are way to variable and unreliable. Nobody wants a grid that goes out all the times. People seem to have forgotten that the system simultaneously produces and consumes at the same time. IE Load matches generation, if you don't have this the whole grid can collapse very easily and will take many hours to restore everybody. Unacceptable really.

  2. If all the generation is centered at certain places we have to transport MEGA amounts of power to where the load is. Nobody wants more transmission lines, plus that infrastructure is hella expensive. We already have it.

  3. Having one big grid with technology from todays and the foreseeable future will have massive losses due to the distances and obviously stability issues. Imagine if the whole world went black. Way to risky.

  4. The people that write these don't really seem to have the engineering background or experience to work this out. They work on assumptions like, '70% sunshine days per year', and a house uses 18000kWh per year. A grid wont work on assumptions or averages, it has to work at the extremes. That persons 18000kWh per year is the total energy consumed for the year, what the use at a particular time is more important. Can this grid handle that? When everybody is sucking power due to a heatwave can we assume that a cloud wont go over the solar panels? Wind wont die down for a second?

In addition I think that going small/medium scale renewable is the way to go for now, to supplement base load like coal/gas/nuclear.

dabadwolf3 karma

Why have we not yet started to put our powerlines underground? In europe this seems very popular and I dont think I have heard any problems. They are cheaper to maintain, use NO wood no problems that I know of. Can you explain why we haven't adapted this in the U.S?

Huplescat221 karma

I have wondered the same thing myself. The only thing that I’ve ever seen cited as a drawback is that, even underground, they are still vulnerable to lighting strikes. I don’t know how that works, but when a buried cable gets hit it’s hard to pinpoint the bad spot.

Opposing view: 'Undergrounding' power lines is no cure-all

a_guy_named_max2 karma

Yep we have had lightning damage, damage from machinery, joints that fail, and believe it or not, in hilly areas damage from trees sliding down banks and the tree piercing the roadway, damaging the cable! Its mostly joints that fail due to water ingress or age of the cable, the some of the older XLPE cables are not the best.

dabadwolf1 karma

Couldn't they just follow the voltage to where it drops like a radar ?

a_guy_named_max2 karma

Nah not that simple unfortunately. There are different types of faults, mainly phase to phase, phase to earth and open circuit. Each type has a different way to find it, and some require very expensive and sophisticated machines are required like sending down pulses and measuring the pulses when they bounce back.

Sometimes its easy to find, other times very difficult! Most of the faults cannot be traced while the cable is alive as there is a lot of fault current, like 500 to 2000A!

a_guy_named_max1 karma

Most new residential areas are underground now and a lot of the infrastructure I install now is underground already. Rural areas I install high voltage mostly overhead as it is about 1/4 the price of going underground. Most people cant afford it. We just make sure the trees are well clear before we construct. Low voltage is almost always constructed underground everywhere now on our network.

Putting existing lines, transformers, customers services, capacitor banks etc underground is very expensive. to do this we will have to charge every customer more money, something that we cannot do unfortunatley, most would consider this 'gold plating' and is un-neccessay to do everywhere.

That being said, some specific areas get funding to do it as it has a big advantage, like the main street of a town due to the massive aesthetic improvement. Or heavily treed areas, powerlines too close to buildings etc. I doubt the whole network will be ever placed undergound, and lets not forget that underground has its own issues too!

JStanton6173 karma

In a real-life scenario is "islanding" where a solar panel keeps lines active where you otherwise would think they're dead a real problem? Wouldn't you test every time anyway?

a_guy_named_max3 karma

Every approved inverter has 'anti-islanding' technology. The inverter NEEDS to see the 50/60Hz frequency from the grid or it will shut off. This gets tested when we commission it and connect it to our grid. We have more issues with larger scale generators like major industrial customers that have co-generation. We protect our network with smart 22kV switches that can sense power flow direction.

scttydsntknw852 karma

Have you seen the people who crowd funded "Solar Roadways?"

I am one of the people that think this is a terrible idea. I know you are not speak for the USA but since you have experience in the power supply field; do you think think this is a terrible idea?

a_guy_named_max2 karma

I am usually skeptical of the new flashy green products that get thrown around on the net. I am in no way against 'green power' though. But yes I agree what they are proposing is pretty crazy and pie in the sky and probably not feasible. I do think that it could have some small scale use, prehaps carparks? etc.

But for sure there are better ways to generate power that wont involve spending billions on new power lines to connect up these powered roadways that produce, really in effect, a tiny amount of power. A lot of people underestimate the power usage drawn by businesses and industrial areas and how little amount solar PV generates.

SRD_Grafter2 karma

What would you want people to know about your job? It could be a fun factoid, a public service announcement, or just something that rubs you the wrong way.

What are your thoughts on the smart grid ideas that have been floating around?

a_guy_named_max3 karma

Hmm there is one thing that has bugged me for a while now on reddit, and one of the reasons for this AMA....

What I have noticed in the general public is the amount of miss-information that gets thrown around and the hoistile view that some people have of the 'electricity companies'. It really is a complex balancing act of trying to have reliable (at all times, including during heat waves), safe and cost effective network. There are so many issues to contend with. So AMA!

The old grid is very dumb in many areas and that no longer cuts it today, especially on the low voltage side of the network. The grid is definitely getting smarter overall and can see what its doing straight away. For example we are using more remote control gas switches and can restore power to more people quicker than ever. The next thing is the smart meters, these have so many advantages to help us provide good quality of supply. Its pretty exciting from our point of view as people who are trying to make the network run as best as it possibly can.

Javin0072 karma

Is there any truth to the conspiracy theory that if 16 different "hubs" (dunno the technical term) were to be blown up simultaneously (4 in each grid) in the United States, that it would cause a domino effect of blowing transformers nation wide?

a_guy_named_max3 karma

If you disrupt enough of the larger transmission stations, yes it probably could take down the country's grid. Isolated pockets might still be able to operate however. It wont blow up transformers, just cause massive parts, or even the whole grid to go black and will take days to get back up and running.

The big transmission switchyards have a high security rating and are well protected because of this. They are in the national interest to protect.

ConcreteSlushy2 karma

If we had a solar flare, which wiped out the entire power grid in Australia, how long do you think it would take to repair all of the power lines?

a_guy_named_max1 karma

I doubt it would damage much but I'm not an expert on solar flare! More of a science and experienced engineering question. Its not something we have ever had experience on our network, possibly ever.

kermitcooper2 karma

Is the conversion of all power lines from overhead to underground be plausible and cost effective? My neighborhood is tight with homes and even tighter with utilities lines so I'd love to see it clear up a little bit.

a_guy_named_max1 karma

Its not really, not to do the whole network, isolated packets are worth doing for specific reasons, like aesthetics, trees, clearance issues etc. I wrote about it above also on a simular question.

You cannot forget all that comes with it. Its not just burying the lines, its where do you put the transfromer that was on a pole? ground kiosk transformers are a lot bigger and most streets would not have room. Peoples services on every house will have to be undergrounded, probably have to get new meter boards etc.. It just really adds up to a lot of work for not much gain in most cases! Sorry to be a debbie downer.

tlvr2 karma

Are there any good beginner's books that talk about the design of the grid? I'm a software guy that works with utilities and I'm always wishing I knew more about your side of the biz.

a_guy_named_max1 karma

I dont know of any books per-say as I was taught in-house and used manuals and local knowledge to learn. Western power has some good manuals etc that are available on the web. There is a heap of factors that come into play so hopefully these manuals can give you a bit of a guide:

Try Here, Here, and Here

I will also add that the network is very big and most people specialise, IE I know a fair amount about distribution power lines rather than generation or transmission. You also have the metering and servicing side which in itself is complex!

Are there any areas that fascinate you, or just the system at a whole?

rafabr42 karma

I've heard about some problems with renewable energies, like having to (sort of) stabilize the current generated so that there isn't a massive power outage that screws all devices. Did I get that right?

a_guy_named_max2 karma

Too much solar energy in a grid can cause issues since it is can add instability to the network.

There are heaps of scenarios, but for example, Imagine that there is heaps of solar in a particular part of the network, like some medium sized 300kW installations and heaps of roof top solar. Its going great, supporting the 22kV feeder that supplies the area by generating power into back into the 22kV network. All of a sudden there is a cloud that covers most of the panels in the area virtually instantly. The network voltage on the 22kV feeder will drop causing dangerously low voltage too all customers, as there is heap of load on the network due lots of aircons and industry... It will take minutes for the 22kV regulator to bump up the volts to acceptable level. It depends heavily on where the solar/wind is connect to the grid and at what voltage.

Generally the stronger the network in the area the less impact renewables have on our network, but in some rural areas the network is weaker and it will definitely cause issues.

Hope this makes sense.

rafabr42 karma

Thank you sir! It definitely does.

a_guy_named_max1 karma

No worries! Call me Max.

default_exception2 karma

How difficult and costly would it be to change ~1/2km of overhead power lines to underground? Our subdivision has been asking our power company about this for some time now, and will never give us a more detailed response than "no". Won't even quote us a price. How hard is this really?

a_guy_named_max2 karma

A fair amount of work. Are there high and low voltage cables along the route? Where is the transformer that feeds you or are there multiple? Can you provide me with a google streetview location of the street, it will give me a good idea what we are dealing with. Don't tell me your actual house address, PM me if you want.

It would be an expensive task, and could be in the order of $100k to $250k, depending on what needed to be doing. Remember that each house will have to be converted to underground, so would be a few grand per house too.

Unfortunately, almost all of these schemes never end up getting anywhere because not everybody wants to/can pay. They might have had this experience in the past hence the flat no. Who is the distribution company?

troy7772 karma

What is the future of power line?example new material?

a_guy_named_max3 karma

Overall the biggest change I see is the 'superconductor' but I have not seen it implemented in Australia yet. For the most part its incremental improvements like insulation in cables, crossarm construction etc, IE going fiberglass rather than wood crossarms etc, concrete or fiberglass poles over wood. Underground cables and their insulation are also slowly improving, but they still use copper or aluminum as the conductor.

These new technologies are being implemented all the time but usually when we replace infrastructure, rather than a big sweep as it it would be too expensive, and dont have the manpower.

I see powerlines to always be there and will always have a need for them, that wont change. We will see more smart devices however and power flow in different directions rather than just one direction like in the past. Its a massive thing and I could write for hours on what we have done in recent years and what the future might hold. One big thing that our company has done is self healing. When we have a network with enough remote control gas switches it is possible to have computer software to control them, and in some areas can switch the network around within a minute to get as many people back on as possible after a fault. This didnt even happen 5 years ago, and getting more and more widespread. We have done most of our network where it is possible.

benofepmn2 karma

Can you give us an overview of how powerlines work?

a_guy_named_max3 karma

In the end, all they really do is transport energy!

But of course there are a heaps of forces like mother nature and physics fighting against us all the time. For example we have to step up the voltage from the generation to overcome resistance, and then step it down again once it reaches the consumer to become usable.

There are many things I could talk about when describing how they work. Do you have anything specific? Like why they look the way they do, how does a grid look if you look at it from above? A picture really does tell a thousand words. It really is a mess of interconnected things at different voltages, city areas look different from rural too.

benofepmn1 karma

some things I was wondering: +do consumers "suck" power from the lines? +how do brownouts/blackouts happen? +what is some of the stuff in a transformer station and what does it do? +

a_guy_named_max3 karma

Yes power gets 'stolen' from the network. Its hard to get it directly from our power lines, whether it be underground or overhead cables, easy for us to see and police. What they will usually do is try and bypass the meter in their meter board, or tap into the cable that runs from the point of attachment on the house roof to the meter board. The power they use is taken before it gets to the meter.

Brownouts are not very common, but are usually from when one of the three phases becomes open circuit before or in the transformer thats in the street. The two remaining phases will be substantially lower voltage and people will see their lights dim heaps, and microwave go slow etc. Could also happen in a single phase transformer too. Voltage at one of our zone substations (the switchyards you see in towns and suburbs) could drop due to a failure in one of backbone 66kV lines for example, or the failure of our transformer in our zone substation to 'tap up' the volts when load is increasing. There are many more possible scenarios but they might be the more common ones.

Blackouts are a total loss of power and could range from a low voltage fuse failure in the transformer that supplies your street to a tree going over one of our 66/22kV lines. This will impact on many more customers. There are thousands of different ways power could be out to your house! Some will take seconds to fix, others can take days.

When you say transformer station I will assume you mean 'zone substation'. Sometimes simply referred to as just a substation, they are found in each town or each suburb for example, the more load there is the more/bigger they will be. They will get incoming lines at approx 66kV from terminal stations and possibly interconnecting ones to other zone substations or major customers like paper mills, smeltering etc, they are all different really. So they have a lot of switches to interconnect all the 66kV lines. Then there will be transformers, possibly 3 or so that will convert that to 22kV and have tap changes that vary the output volts depending on the loading. Then there are more switches and outgoing 22kV 'feeders' that spread throughout the area.

There is a heap of protection equipment in the zone subs, capacitor banks to correct power factor, circuit breakers that can open and close at any time remotely (fancy expensive switch). Everything in there serves a purpose.

Hope this helps!

gtsteel1 karma

Has there been any trouble with people stealing power through resonant induction? I've heard of it happening near large rural transmission lines and there is no visible connection to look for.

a_guy_named_max1 karma

It has been talked about in our office, but I'm not sure the amount of cable required and the testing, messing around and safety issues would be worth it! They could be out there. I'm sure some people have done a write up too see if its actually feasible!

jimicus2 karma

A former colleague informs me that even though the most you can get to your business is three phase, electricity is actually generated in 12 phases.

Can you explain this?

a_guy_named_max1 karma

As far a I know they generate 3 phase, see WIKI on alternators. Think your colleague might be mistaken or confused. There can be more POLES, but not phases. As Tornado stated below there can be a neural point as well.

kjvlv2 karma

should we believe the warnings about the solar storm that just missed us last week and it's ability to bring down the grid? How about an EMP? How "safe" is the grid?

a_guy_named_max2 karma

Probably a bit of over dramatization and media beat up, a lot of people get worked up on dooms-day scenarios and the media love it.

I would listen to engineers or the regulatory body for the most part. But I am not an expert in EMP but doubt it would cause much damage to equipment, but might cause many things to trip and it could cascade and have a massive blackout. Then it would take a while to get the grid back up and stable. They would restore sections at at time along with adding more generation to the system to keep it stable.

BUT its always good to prepare for a few days without power!

KaptainKielbasa2 karma

Do you do any work with protective relays? Sorry I have to ask, im interning in a utility's protections department.

a_guy_named_max1 karma

Yes! but its not my main role. But I am a high voltage switchyard operator so I have to use them and I have a very basic understanding (compared to people who work on them and load settings in etc) of what they do, and how they work.

I mainly have to deal with 22kV feeder CB relays, but our stations have many more as you would be well aware of.

KaptainKielbasa1 karma

Cool! I saw somewhere else in this thread that you're Australian, does Australia have a FERC equivalent?

tornadoRadar2 karma

When you have a line fault, do you just try to re-close it at normal line voltage?

I was taught that when a line had a fault, operators trying higher voltages to see if that'll clear the fault cause....

But that always left me wondering how the hell you guys played dial a voltage...

a_guy_named_max1 karma

Yes always at normal line voltage, it is not really possible to inject additional voltage. And we would not want to! it could blow up peoples appliances, and cause further damage to our infrastructure. All our equipment has ratings. IE 66kV equipment is tested to 70kV etc, and going over this will cause damage.

The standard line voltage is quite enough for our re-closes to sense fault or to burn out the small branch/bark that has caused the fault!


  • Do you design the line itself or the planned installation of new lines? Or just manage the actual line installation?

  • how did you get into such a technical design area without a degree in the field?

  • which power grid do you design for? What redundancies are necessary, and how do you account for them?

I've got lots of questions because this is the field I'm planning to go into when I graduate this fall.

a_guy_named_max2 karma

  1. I design from start to finish, so that includes many things like; the route, type of conductor and how tight it is strung, size and strength of poles, stays required, crossarm size, earthing requirements, transformer and fusing sizes. Those are some of the main things that I need. I need to take into consideration access for the linesmen to build and also maintain it in the future, and of course the customers requirements.

  2. An engineering degree is not required in my position, but I have what we call an Advanced diploma in Australia. If anything gets beyond me, we have engineers that can work it out for me. But for the most part things that I have to deal with have principles that are not overly complex and good manuals etc. A lot of it is practical logical solutions, like a customer comes complaing about an issue they are having with their electricity supply, you don't have to have an engineering degree to get it investigated and solved, but you still need a good understanding of electricity!

  3. I wont say what company I work for unfortunately, not 100% sure they would want me doing an AMA, even though there really is nothing to hide. I'm in Australia. Redundancies are not really on anybody's mind here for various reasons, its seen as a very good stable industry. If you want any more info you can PM me.

Where are you located?


I'm in Texas, where we have a double failure requirement (any two lines, two generators, or combination of one line and generator can fail at any time and every load is still met.)

It's interesting to me that you are both the designer, builder, and customer service, in a sense. Do you take care of a city sized area, or an entire province?

Thanks for doing this :-)

a_guy_named_max2 karma

Much of the larger more important parts of our network have redundancy in place, for example 2 x 66kV lines that run from the terminal station to a zone substation and at most times can handle all the load if the other is out for service. But some still might struggle on extreme loading days but we like to cater for this. We also have our state grids interconnected with other state networks so we share capacity to generate and have an open market.

I should clarify that I don't build the line, just design and project manage and then give a works package to the linesmen to construct it! But yes my role is pretty diverse in the grand scheme of things which is great.

My area is mainly rural, including small towns (eg approx 2000 people each). I share a small city with my other couple of colleagues.

Love to go to Texas! I have been to the USA last year, covered California, Arizona and Nevada mainly in an RV. So much more to see!

The skills shortage over here in Australia has fortunately created a market where some of us don't have much of a chance to get made redundant, and that includes linesmen. We are kept very busy with a lot of work!

Harriv2 karma

How often you do this?

Real question: Why they are climbing hot power lines? (Do you use word "hot" in this context?)

a_guy_named_max2 karma

I love watching that video!

But, its not my job, as I am not a linesman. We can touch high voltage (and very high voltage!) lines under certain conditions with the right precautions to help maintain them. Transmission line work (like in the video) is a fair amount different to distribution line work and have different things they need to check and maintain.

The linesmen in the video could be checking the condition of the conductor and the spacers. There could be broken strands due to lightning damage for example.

Different companies and areas probably have different terms they use, we us 'Live'.

_fonz_2 karma

How the hell do they get power lines up in the mountains? (Like Colorado)

a_guy_named_max2 karma

With great difficulty!

How they done it in the past is different to now. In the past they were dragged in the pole and equipment possibly by horse, hole dug by hand and used an 'A frame' to stand the pole.

Now we have a few more options. We could drop it in via helicopter and then dig the hole with a petrol (gas for u Americans) powered machine.

New lines these days in that sort of terrain would likely be built underground, in the middle or off to the side of a track or road.

You have to take each pole as it comes and work out how the hell we would go stand or replace it for existing infrastructure.

Rudi_VanDisarzio_1 karma

Overhead powerlines used to be linked to childhood leukaemia. Do you ever experience any negative public opinion because of this, even though it's been debunked?

a_guy_named_max1 karma

Not really anymore. We have isolated cases of customer not wanting to be close to our lines and transformers in the street. The focus has shifted onto the health impacts of our smart meters.

ThatSteeve1 karma

Are there any impacts from smart meters?

a_guy_named_max2 karma

I highly doubt it. I think people are referring to the communication of the smart meters, some use wi-fi to a tower, others the existing 3G network. We have had electroic meters for a while now with no complaints. It was only when we were rolling out the new smart meters with comms, and the obvious media coverage that some people got their back up. We had people complain already before we even installed the comms cards and antennas.

There are many more devices out there that emit much more RF energy, like mobile phones.

Some people just buy into the scaremongering going around really and get worked up over it. It will blow over I expect, but there will always be some who claim they are sensitive to RF and get headaches, joint pains etc. If they were sensitive, they probably couldn't live in today's modern towns and cities already with all the RF that has existed for years.

siton_my_face1 karma

Where's the best place to learn about how the grid works for someone working in the energy industry without, but seeking a grounding in electrical engineering? Any sacred textbooks etc would be massively helpful!

a_guy_named_max2 karma

I honestly don't know! I learnt on the job, so from fellow colleagues and company manuals. I'm really sorry I cant help much!

There is a post above that was similar that may help, it had links to the western power (western Australian distributor) website.

Klaus_Goldfish1 karma

So, on a scale of 1-11, how unstable is the grid you are working on at any given time?

I'm just asking because a guy my daughter knows works on the German grid, and that thing more or less starts to smoke every winter since we did the whole "tsunamis in the alps, let's shut down all reactors" thing.

a_guy_named_max1 karma

I assume you mean frequency stability (where supply = demand)? Here in Australia it is pretty stable as a whole. The entire eastern side of the state including South Australia and Tasmania are interconnected so we share a lot of generation. It is usually only in extreme(im talking 43+!) , prolonged temperatures that the system is on the limit and starts to crack. I don't have any knowledge of any major blackout caused by stability, however there was one one recently in 2009. This one caused reasonably major blackouts, but not state or country wide. It was caused by localised transmission issues not lack of generation.

So I would say 2/11. Very good.

Klaus_Goldfish2 karma

Stability as in "how far are we from needing to drop loads and/or run around screaming", so yes, frequency-wise.

a_guy_named_max1 karma

We are sweet, we have a surplus of generation these last couple of years. We have not had to load shed due to generation issues that I know of. No nuclear here, we have coal generation mostly, with some gas, hydro, wind and solar.

We have contracts with some of the larger industrial customers to ask them to reduce supply and paying them money to do so, which helps.

richietie1 karma

Do you ever think about the number of squirrels who want your job? think about that for a second..or a millisecond

a_guy_named_max2 karma

It keeps me up at night! Plot twist: I'm Aussie so possums instead.

x124112x1 karma

When's my damn power coming back on?

a_guy_named_max2 karma

Ok just flicked the switch, should be back on!