Issue 2 | APRIL 2012
Keeping the Lights On — My Work at EMA

Ever wondered who are the people working behind the scene to keep the lights on for Singapore? These unsung heroes include the Engineers and Technical Executives at EMA’s Power System Operation Division (PSOD). ON speaks with Mr Chew Gim Wah, an Electrical Engineer who has been a Control Manager for the past 10 years to find out more on how he and his team of Technical Executives ensure power flows to all who need it around-the-clock.

Tell us more about what you do.

As a Control Manager, I lead a team of Technical Executives during my shift, monitor and control the electricity transmission system and generation dispatch. I also oversee the secure operation of the natural gas transmission system, including taking appropriate actions to restore system stability when disturbances occur. This includes coordination with various parties such as the generation companies, the gas companies and the grid company. The number of phones on my desk is an indication of the stakeholders and partners I may have to manage in times of crisis.

As part of my job, I undergo regular training to be updated with latest technical developments. I also go through the Dispatcher Training Simulator at least twice a year with the Technical Executives. This Simulator is a full-scale offline replica of our real-time system which primes us to handle emergency situations.

Nerves of steel?

I am often asked, “Do you require nerves of steel in your job?” This is because I am essentially the first person to troubleshoot the situation should a power outage threaten to occur. This job requires me to be able to make a quick assessment of all information available, and to decide on a course of action. And this all takes place within the chaos of emergency lights flashing and alarms going off within the control centre. So indeed, this job does entail one to remain calm, be clear-headed and be able to make good decisions under pressure.

This is thus not your typical 9-5 office work. First, all Control Managers will need to work on a rotating daily three-shift system. After many years, my body clock has since adjusted and I can work the midnight shift without feeling sleepy. This is crucial as I need to be alert at all times during my shift, ready to respond to any emergencies. So I cannot stress enough about being constantly alert. Having a strong heart is also a plus!

Any interesting stories to share?

This job of mine keeps me on my toes all the time. In 2004, there was a power outage affecting 30% of Singapore. The outage was caused by a disruption to the gas supply from West Natuna and we took almost two hours to restore power to those affected by the outage. That was an intense day for all of us in the Control Centre.

In recent years, we averted several incidents of power outage without any adverse consequences to consumers, thanks to a well-executed emergency response and strong support from our industry partners. After each incident, I felt very good knowing that my team and I were able to contribute to keeping the lights on for Singapore.

Receiving The Commendation Medal in 2010 . . .

I received The Commendation Medal given at the National Day Awards in 2010 in recognition for my part in managing the gas disruptions to two major power stations on 11 November 2008. While on duty, my team and I detected the gas supply interruption and immediately activated the Standing Operating Procedures, averting what could have been a serious blackout. I am confident that it would have been managed with similar professionalism if it were any other team on shift that day as all Control Managers and Technical Executives at PSOD are well-trained for such emergencies. Nevertheless, I am honoured and glad that my efforts have been recognised.

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