You can pursue your interest in subjects related to these occupations by taking courses such as physics and drafting. Shop courses can provide you with an opportunity to work with electrical and mechanical devices and to develop skills in schematic drawing. Some power plants have visitors' centers where the public is allowed to observe some of the plant operations and to learn how electricity is generated and distributed to consumers. Visit http://publicpower.org/Topics/Landing.cfm?ItemNumber=38514 for information on public power systems and the work of lineworkers, engineers, and other professionals.
Various workers are involved in regulating and directing electric power as it flows from the generators to consumers. The basic concern these workers share is maintaining a continuous and uninterrupted flow of energy, regardless of changing conditions and any problems that arise in the transmission and distribution system. Electricity is generated from many sources, including coal, nuclear energy, natural gas, wind and solar power, and hydroelectric energy (from water sources).
Substation operators monitor and regulate the flow of electricity at various facilities. At some substations located close to power plants, voltage may be stepped up for long distance transmission. Operators at these substations observe and record readings of instruments and meters that provide data on the electricity as it comes into and flows out of the substation.
At other substations at the end of long lines, where the voltage is stepped down again, the operators ensure that the equipment reduces the voltage for use by local consumers. Substation operators keep in touch with the main generating plant and connect or break the flow of electricity using levers that control circuit breakers. In substations where alternating current is changed to direct current to meet needs of special users, operators control converters that make these changes.
Some operators monitor equipment at several substations. Increasingly, the activities of substation operators are being automated so that the flow of electricity at various substations can be monitored and regulated from a central location.
Nuclear reactor operators work in nuclear power plant control rooms, where they monitor instruments that record the performance of every pump, compressor, and other treatment system in the reactor unit.
Power distributors and dispatchers, also called load dispatchers or systems operators, control the transmission of power that is sent out from power plants. They work in rooms that function like command posts for coordinating the generating and distributing activities. These dispatchers monitor readings at a map, or pilot, board, which is like an automated map that displays everything that is happening throughout the entire transmission system. Instruments, meters, and lights on the pilot board show the status of transmission circuits, connections with substations, and the power draw by large industrial users. Based on this information, load dispatchers operate current converters, voltage transformers, and circuit breakers.
They also anticipate power needs, based on previous patterns of power use and variable factors such as weather conditions, and inform operators in the central control room of the generating plant about how much power will be needed at a later time. For example, if a hot day is forecast, load dispatchers know that consumers will be putting air-conditioners, fans, and refrigerators to maximum use and that enough power will have to be generated to meet the demand. In other instances, they may tell control room operators to produce less electricity when demand levels drop. In the event of emergencies such as equipment failures, they redirect the power flow around the problem until the situation is corrected. They may also operate equipment to adjust voltage up or down at substations and to control power flow in and out of the substations.
Line installers, also known as utility lineworkers, install, maintain, and repair poles, power lines, and other equipment that is part of the system for transmitting and distributing electricity from power plants to substations and to consumers. They may work alone or with small crews. To install poles in the ground, they may use power equipment to dig holes and set in the poles. Line installers ride buckets on trucks with pneumatic lifts or sometimes climb the telephone poles to attach wires and cables to poles. Other responsibilities may include bolting or clamping insulators, lightning arresters, transformers, circuit breakers, switches, or other equipment.
With the help of other workers, installers string wires between poles or to buildings, adjusting the slack so that the lines do not break in changing weather conditions. They splice cables and attach wires to auxiliary equipment, using various hand tools. For underground cable installations, they may need to dig holes using special power equipment, such as trenchers and plows. Electric companies often contract out the job of installing high transmission towers to companies that specialize in such jobs, but utility lineworkers also may be involved in this work.
Ground helpers aid in setting up electric lines. Working as members of installation and repair crews, they dig holes, raise poles, and string lines. They may also pass the correct tools and equipment to installers and compact earth around the base of newly erected poles to hold them firmly in place.
Troubleshooters are experienced lineworkers who respond to emergency situations that require quick diagnosis and repair. They must be familiar with the power system and the various kinds of malfunctions that may develop. When they receive a call from a dispatcher, troubleshooters go to the area where the malfunction is reported. They examine the equipment and use testing devices to locate and assess the problem. They repair or replace conductors, switches, fuses, transformers, and related equipment. When they work with electrically energized lines, they use special safety methods and insulated ladders, tools, and platforms.
Cable splicers install and repair cables, especially in urban areas where cables are installed underground because above-ground power lines are impractical. Cable splicers pull cable through conduits, or ducts, that contain wires and join the cables at connecting points, according to diagrams and specifications. Also, they insulate the splice and seal it with a protective covering. They use testing devices to detect broken cables and incorrect connections, and they reinsulate or replace defective connections and cables.