The brain of the power station

‘This is the brain of the power station’, said Örjan Karlsson, head of maintenance at Skellefteå Kraft’s Finnfors hydro-power plant in northern Sweden.

The 'brain of the power station'

The ‘brain of the power station’

He pointed to a 1990s clunky computer of the type we had all forgotten.  It seemed extraordinary that this whole operation should rely on this one, ancient, piece of equipment whose parts are now obsolete.  ‘If it fails,’ said Örjan, ‘we have to use people’. The finance department seemed not to appreciate the size of the problem.

Tour
I was on a field trip, following the European conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons, in Umeå last September (see earlier blogs).  We had a tour of the power station which was built in 1906, as portrayed on a mural in the station.

Mural of the power plant construction in 1906

Mural of the power plant construction in 1906

The art nouveau influence is still visible in these cobweb-like windows.

Art nouveau windows at the power plant

Art nouveau windows at the power plant

There are 15 power stations on the 400-km-long river Skellefteälven, hydro power being an extremely important energy source for Sweden.  Skellefteå Kraft is a public company and the public benefits twice, from a share in the profits and from discounted energy.

We all donned hard hats for the tour.  First we went inside the power plant, then out onto the floodgates.

On the floodgates

On the floodgates, debating ice-hockey teams!

These are heated in winter so that they can be opened even when the river is frozen. Every third Sunday in June there is a special event with a marching band.  All four floodgates are opened to release the river.  Last summer was warm and the river is lower than usual, which will make electricity more expensive this winter.  Our discussion about ice soon led to a debate about the relative merits of ice-hockey teams!

Let there be light
We were given a book about the history of the power plant, entirely in Swedish, called Varde ljus (Let there be light).  The illustrations give a flavour of the immensity of the project.  With Google’s help I translated the captions.

A team at Finn rapids.  From Varde ljus

A team at Finn rapids. From Varde ljus

The power plan was built by hand (and horse). From Varde ljus

The power plan was built by hand [and horse]. From Varde ljus

 

 

 

 

Builder J E Pettersson thinking about the possibility of building a power station at Finn rapids.  From  Varde ljus.

Builder J E Pettersson thinking about the possibility of building a power station at Finn rapids. From Varde ljus

Örjan and Håkan Marklund (the plant’s maintenance engineer) told me that the culture of the company has changed.  There are broadly two groups of employees: economists and technicians.  The technicians used to work up through the ranks from the shop floor and understood how the system worked.  Now the people at the top have come from a different background, they don’t have a feel for the operation and are constantly asking questions.

Sad, but no doubt all too common in industry today.

Örjan Karlsson (right) and Håkan Marklund (left)

Örjan Karlsson (right) and Håkan Marklund (left)

 

 

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About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
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2 Responses to The brain of the power station

  1. Jackie Kay says:

    Hello Kate! (You know me in a completely different context!)
    What an extraordinary coincidence – I visited this same power station (I think – although can’t be sure of the name) in 1976 just prior to going to university. I was at a music course at a village not far from Umea for 3 weeks and they arranged this trip on an afternoon off. But I went midsummer which was great (23 hours daylight) – you must be there at the worst time of year unless you have saved this blog up for a while.

  2. Hi Jackie, lovely to hear from you and thank you for your comment. I have held the blog for a bit, I was there on 19 September. If you put Sweden in the search box you’ll see my other two blogs about the same trip, written at the time. After the power station we went to Vindeln for lunch, then to see some forestry, I need to write about that too.

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