An impromptu tour of Substations

To say that I barely scraped through my electrical engineering classes in university is a bit harsh. But it’s not all that far off the truth. I have memories of sitting in sunny afternoon lectures really struggling to focus (or to put it less euphemistically, really struggling to stay awake.)

In general electricity intimidates me. I think a lot of that is to do with it being so dangerous, with so much that can go wrong if you don’t understand everything that needs to be understood. And at the end of the day I really don’t think I should be allowed to hold that kind of power in my hands (pun intended.) So I’m not sure why I’m drawn to substations.

I think it may have to do with them being so brutally human. They are angular and structured. Angry looking. There is nothing about them that looks organic or gentle. The closest that I think they come to having any parallel in nature is the elephant graveyard in the Lion King. But they are also compact and neat, providing such a clear purpose, without sprawling all over the landscape.

I also cannot help but think about a robot dancing whenever I hear the term step-up transformer. This helps my generous view of them, I think.

In my experience on solar farm construction projects, they are also often the aspect of work that gets built with the fewest quality issues. Or rather, the fewest number of quality issues at completion. Perhaps it’s because the Powerlinks/ Transgrids/ Electranets/ Eskoms of the world have so much say in the end product. And contractors find it very hard to wriggle out of commitments when they need a big red rubber stamp on the substation to complete any of their other works.

I remember the solar farm I worked on in De Aar, South Africa, where everything that could go wrong went wrong, and the Contractor barely knew their upside from their downside. The substation was this beacon of light. They knew that they couldn’t get away with using self tapping screws THERE. Or housing important equipment in rusty second hand containers full of holes. The substation was the only part of the project that looked as you’d imagine it should.

Last week work took me out to the Western Downs region in Queensland. On my way back I took a wrong turn and found myself going down a beautiful gravel road in my attempt to get back on track. Then I happened upon the sweetest little substation. And so I jumped out to take a pic so I could remember it. So sweet sitting in such a beautiful setting.

Ergon’s Kaimkillenbun 33/11kV substation
If you ever feel the need to take a wrong turn, I recommend finding yourself around here

Once back on the right road it was all about getting home. But by then I had my substation spotting eyes in and I drove by two more. One in Kilcoy and another in Beerwah.

Energex’s Kilcoy Substation. Perched on top of a hill.
Beerwah Substation. Not quite as pretty a setting.

They do so much for us, and you can hear it when you walk close to them. A hummmmmm. They are everywhere once you start looking for them.

If you’d like to read more about substations – what they do and what different types they are, have a look here.