On a recent sunny day, solar energy production should have been high. But because it was also windy, the tracking mechanisms that usually tilt Tucson Electric Power’s solar panels toward the sun had instead automatically stowed them in “safety position” – horizontal – to protect them from damage.
With less solar power than anticipated, Doug Hood needed to look somewhere else besides the sun for energy that morning.
Such is the unpredictable nature of the job for our Balancing Authority team. As a System Supervisor in Generation System Control, it’s Doug’s job to make sure that there’s enough power to keep the lights on and air conditioning flowing throughout the Tucson area.
Our Balancing Authority team, part of the System Control & Reliability department, is on duty 24-hours a day, 7-days-a-week. Employees alternate in 12-hour shifts in a dark, highly secured room with wall-to-wall screens to monitor energy, the weather and the news.
While the solar power situation was unusual on that Wednesday, it didn’t pose a problem. With weather in the mid-70s, energy needs were low and generation was plentiful from other sources, including conventional and renewable resources throughout the Western region.
The team is constantly calculating the best balance of energy from all available sources, supported by weather reports and lessons learned through experience. For example, clouds can quickly deplete solar resources and the wind can stop blowing in several areas at once, rapidly reducing energy supplies.
“It’s kind of like chess. You’re always having to look at the screen for your next move,” Doug said.
In addition to our own resources, TEP has quick access to power through the Western Energy Imbalance Market, a virtual exchange where electric utilities conduct energy transactions in intervals as small as 5 minutes.
Doug’s team is responsible for adjusting generating resources to meet needs, given resource demands and market costs. The team is in constant contact with power plant operators to tell them how much energy to produce. Sometimes it’s less expensive to buy energy than to generate it ourselves.
Doug said the market has made it easier for the team – and the Tucson community – to get quick energy because of the expanded access with more flexibility on time and cost.
“It’s another tool to help us provide service reliability to customers. The fact you have more options to secure power now is a definite bonus, especially when there are significant demands on the system.”
Hired at TEP in 2006 after working as an intern, Doug trained in a number of positions but knew he wanted to work for the System Control & Reliability department. The job now requires two and a half years of training, recently reduced from three and a half years, along with certification from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation before an employee is qualified to work without direct supervision.
Doug enjoys the unpredictability of his work, including the occasional adrenaline rush. He constantly has to account for current generation, as well as enough reserves to cover any unexpected changes.
Doug said his team is dedicated to securing the most affordable, most reliable power possible for customers. It’s a job that requires commitment, flexibility and confidence. “Whatever is thrown at us, we have to jump on it within seconds or minutes and assess the situation,” Doug said. “It’s never the same every day.”