Don’t let a crisis situation take you by surprise
Oulun Energia Sähköverkko Oy is prepared for disruptions and extraordinary circumstances by making plans and taking preventative measures. With cooperation, we can ensure that the most critical functions still work even if electricity is temporarily unavailable.
“After all, we must have a preparedness plan and a contingency plan for exceptional circumstances that meets the requirements of the Energy Authority,” states Matti Lehto, Operations Manager at Oulun Energia Sähköverkko Oy.
Matti Lehto, Operations Manager at Oulun Energia Sähköverkko Oy
According to both the Electricity Market Act and the Emergency Powers Act, network operators must prepare for disruptions, implementation of regulatory measures due to power shortages, and extraordinary circumstances referred to in the Emergency Powers Act by having a preparedness plan in place.
“Based on the plans, authorities can then assess whether the operators are sufficiently prepared,” Lehto shares.
As a result of possible crisis situations, the use of electricity may have to be regulated.
“If there are exceptional circumstances, we might have to set each electricity user a consumption quota. In other words, the system operator determines a consumption quota for each point of use based on the amount of electricity provided in the previous year,” Lehto describes.
For electricity exceeding the consumption quota, an excess penalty must be paid to the State amounting to three times the average consumer price of electrical energy charged by the retailer. The excess penalty is the responsibility of the electricity retailer. In this situation, the distribution of electricity is therefore not interrupted, but rather, you pay more for any use exceeding the quota in your electricity bill. Lehto notes that energy companies will not start restricting the supply of energy themselves or because of their own interests.
“The Government, in cooperation with the President, can declare Finland to be in a state of emergency when the criteria for exceptional circumstances is met,” Lehto states.
Electricity supply can be suspended for two hours at a time
In the event of an electricity shortage, a network operator may also be obliged to temporarily suspend the supply of electricity if reducing electricity consumption is not sufficient to maintain the operating capacity of the electricity network.
“We would suspend electricity in two-hour cycles in different areas. Initially, the outages would take place in areas without any vulnerable sites from the point of view of security of supply, such as hospitals. In practice, the outages concern different residential areas,” Lehto describes.
However, a cyclical interruption of electricity supply is an extremely exceptional measure.
“I’ve been doing this work for 42 years, and not once have I had to turn off the electricity,” reassures Lehto. “Of course, as the media has pointed out, there may be a threat of a shortage of electricity this winter during the most severe frosts. This may also happen if, in the event of a major disruption, there is a severe lack of electricity production or transmission capacity.”
The order for distribution system operators to take restrictive measures due to an electricity shortage would be given by transmission system operator Fingrid Oyj.
Working together in crisis situations
In case of exceptional circumstances, Oulun Energia cooperates with the City of Oulu and various local organisations and officials. The cooperation covers, for example, practice runs and the division of roles during crises. There are also common operating principles to prepare for crises. If the electricity goes out throughout the city, refueling at fuel stations will no longer be possible. However, the aim is to ensure the supply of fuel for vital entities using backup power and fuel cards that enable entities such as the electricity company, waterworks company, or the city’s social services, for example, to fill up their vehicles if necessary.
“The police, the Finnish Defence Forces, and the rescue services all have their own fuel sources at their disposal,” Lehto says.
By acquiring backup power generators, we can ensure that organisations vital to society are able to operate during a large-scale electricity outage. However, there are only a limited number of backup power generators in use. They are also used in maintenance and repair work.
“When a fire broke out at the Hiirosenkoti nursing home distribution substation's main switchboard in the middle of winter, we were able, with the support of the backup power generator, to secure the supply of electricity, thus avoiding having to evacuate,” Lehto shares.
Monitoring at the operations centre 24/7
It is possible to react to a power outage very quickly. The electricity network operations center monitors for possible faults and disruptions 24/7, 365 days a year. Weather conditions are increasingly predictable in modern times, so it is easier to prepare for the increasing extreme weather in advance. For example, during forecasted storms, more on-call personnel are scheduled to work.
“According to the assessment of the situation, more personnel can be scheduled to be on-call in order to immediately mobilise additional personnel if needed,” Lehto states.
Preparing for crisis situations requires us to be constantly up-to-date and training personnel. A power outage may, for example, be a threat to telecommunications in the form of cyber attacks. In the event of cyber security attacks, it is important that the information technology and security measures are well protected and up-to-date. Oulun Energia Oy’s IT management experts, together with our contract partners, are responsible for cyber and data security. Critical telecommunications solutions are separate from the rest of the information network.
“The functions of critical information systems and telecommunications have been secured using many different security measures," Lehto says.
Consumers can also prepare for power outages themselves
Thanks to preventive measures, long power outages are becoming increasingly rare. However, households should also be prepared for outages that can last even days.
“Especially in agriculture, the supply of electricity has often been ensured using their own backup power generators. They can be used during a power outage, but you must make sure that you don't feed power back into the grid and therefore pose a danger," Lehto points out.
During outages, it is also important to make sure that you do not unnecessarily contribute to the damage caused by the power outages. You should try to keep your home warm and food stores cool. It is worth noting that water pipes are at risk of freezing in severe frosts. Read more about preparing for electricity outages.
“Use common sense. Don’t unnecessarily open the freezer door, reserve enough food, and use melted snow to rinse the toilet, for example,” Lehto lists examples.
For more tips on preparing for power outages at home, see the Ministry of Defence’s publication Pahasti poikki (in Finnish only).