Western Power Distribution is continuing its work to replace the main electricity supply cables into Derby. The ducting is now in place and cables have started being pulled through.
Looking into the big access holes they have left to weld the cable lengths together, it is amazing how much energy can be carried by such a small thickness of cable, but if the old cables fail before these are complete, three quarters of Derby could be left in the dark.
Once these last holes are filled in, all this will be hidden again from sight. It has been a good reminder that we shouldn’t take things like electricty, water, gas and telephones for granted. There are whole teams of people working full time to keep them updated and working.
That the country has the skills to build and maintain our infrastructure is also taken for granted, but should they be? When something is new and in demand, the industry trains staff anticipating the need and growth. As an industry matures the numbers being trained fall as the numbers of people being emplyed also falls, sometimes until it no longer meets even the natural replacement requirements. This can mean these skills again become a premium, jobs are better paid and people with those skills travel from elsewhere to take the well-paid vacancies.
We see this again and again in different industries, at different points in economic cycles. Energy distribution – both electricity and gas – is one such area where there is a shortage of skilled people at present, and the businesses concerned are taking on new apprentices, re-skilling and up-skilling staff.
This is particularly important at the moment as both energy grids are being altered for a new more distributed future energy network. Electricity flows are changing as we move over the next few decades from a few big power stations to wind turbines, solar panels, water turbines and more.
Gas is now flowing less from the North Sea and more from major freight ports with giant tankers of liquified methane – and a few biomethane plants.