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Powerco's Network Operations Centre officially opened

Friday, May 03, 2019

Powerco’s new $5 million Network Operations Centre has been officially opened by the Minister of Civil Defence, Kris Faafoi, in New Plymouth.

The ceremony on Friday 3 May began with an introduction from Powerco’s Hayden Patene in Te Reo Maori, a response from Shane Cassidy of Ngati Te Whiti, an address by Powerco Chief Executive Nigel Barbour and then the minister unveiled a plaque to mark the opening after addressing the gathering.

Other dignitaries included New Plymouth MP Jonathon Young, National’s associate Environment spokesperson, Erica Stanford, New Plymouth mayor, Neil Holdom, and South Taranaki deputy mayor Phil Nixon.

The minister congratulated Powerco for having the vision to build a control centre to the standard of the new complex.

“I visited the old NOC building about 15 months ago as a result of Cyclone Gita and was impressed with that,” he said.

“The new structure gets a 10 out of 10 for what it represents.”

He was taken on a tour of the building and spent a fair bit of that time in the control room at the desk manned by Network coordinator Phil Milne.

Since staff moved in late last year, the complex has attracted interest from industries both in New Zealand and overseas.

Network Operations manager Phil Marsh said visitors from China and representatives from Ballance Agri-Nutrients NZ were impressed with what they saw in recent visits.

“Ballance are looking at building a new control room and said ours was way beyond anything they’d seen,” he said.

Two employees from the Shenzhen-based Hytera radio system company, who supplied the equipment for Powerco’s new voice radio system, were similarly taken.

“They are constructing a multi-storey building for 4000 engineers and their technology is well advanced. But they were surprised by the quality of our green space and the building in general. To impress them was pretty special.”

Marsh rates his company’s “nerve centre” as world class.

“The design, the ergonomic detail, disaster proofing, technology; it’s mind blowing really and a credit to the Powerco executive who had the vision to commit to something like this.”

The end result did not happen by accident with Powerco representatives scoping electricity control rooms in Australia and New Zealand.

“We visited sites in Brisbane, Newcastle, Adelaide and Melbourne and then the operations centres of Transpower, Meridian, Orion, Unison, WEL and Vector in New Zealand. That gave us a good starting point and we also looked at what the ‘pain points’ were in our old building.”

There are three working areas separated by glass sliders. These house the control room operators, the Customer Service team and the third area combined the switch writers, release planners, Scada team and the NOC management.

A ‘Storm Room’ is a feature and was designed to improve Powerco’s response protocol in major events that damage the network.

“It includes a six-screen video wall supplying information identifying outage areas, SCADA data and Powerco web pages that help with customer relationships.”

A glass wall also allows managers to monitor the work pressure on the operators in the control room throughout storms.

“The Storm Room was designed to fit our CIMS (Coordinated Incident Management Systems) infrastructure which wasn’t really possible in the old meeting rooms. There just wasn’t enough room or the technology to operate efficiently.”

The complex was built to withstand a 1 in 2500-year earthquake and can continue to operate even if a natural disaster cripples infrastructure outside the Junction St compound.

“We have a 500kVA emergency transformer, a 500kVA emergency generator and a 10,000lt tank containing three days’ supply of fuel.  Water tanks will allow continued use of toilets and there is bottled water for drinking. NOC is now set up to continue working in the very worst of storms.”

The advice of a “human factor” specialist and the use of cutting-edge building products helped Powerco achieve its goal of a comfortable working environment.

“Getting the acoustics right was a priority.  Our dispatch, control and release planning teams are constantly on the phone and noise was a big problem in the old NOC. But the use of products such as Fabwall, Quietspace and 3D roofing tiles has given us perfect working conditions.”

Custom made desks were another feature, particularly in the control room. Two Taranaki firms helped mock up the new desks and they were tested by Powerco operators to ensure the design was right.

“Their shape, size and depth (they are height adjustable) allows you to sit or stand while working. It doesn’t matter whether you’re short or tall, you adjust to suit.”

A large area containing three communication pods, desks, a lounge, outdoor seating and a kitchen was designed to give employees an informal area to use.

While fine tuning of the technology continues, Phil Marsh says the new NOC weathered its first real test well.

“There were four separate storm events in December and three of those were after we moved in. It was probably the worst December I can remember for lightning strikes. We had 700 strike faults to take care of and had to replace 75 transformers.”

Much of the damage happened on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when a skeleton staff was on duty.

“That, in a sense, tested us in our new surroundings as we coped with running out of replacement transformers and organising generators for some affected customers,” he said.

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