Olympic challenge - the biggest to date

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The 2012 Olympics is set to improve the economy of the UK as well as creating hundreds of jobs in the construction industry, and improving the transport infrastructure of the South East. However, it is a very ambitious project and one of the biggest challenges the UK electricial industry has ever faced. Mark Gledhill from the Electrical Markets Division of 3M explains.

The Olympics is one of the biggest and most exciting construction projects the UK has seen for many decades. It is set to be good news for the economy too: according to figures from the Centre of Economic and Business Research (CEBR), the total amount the construction industry will contribute to the GDP figure by 2012 will be £14bn.
The Olympics project also creates massive new job opportunities: forecasts by ConstructionSkills estimate that the 2012 Olympics will create 33,500 additional jobs in the construction sector alone, peaking in 2010. Last but by no means least, let us not forget the likely boost to the tourist industry the games will provide. Yet long before the 2012 Games were awarded to London, there were concerns about the scale of the construction task. David Higgins, head of the Olympic Development Authority (ODA) has himself been recently quoted as saying “The timetable is extremely tight.”
While achievable, and currently several months ahead of schedule, this is a truly ambitious construction project. Moreover, we are not just talking bricks and mortar: the Olympics are going to require many miles of new power cables to be laid, both permanently and temporarily, as well as the installation of hundreds of power sub-stations. For the electrical power industry, the Olympics are both an opportunity and a challenge.
Overview of the project
On July 25 2006, the ODA outlined the key timelines for the next couple of years. The organisation has allocated the first two years – 2006 and 2007 – for planning, design and procurement, four years to build the venues and infrastructure, then one year for test events. That means that the bulk of the construction work is scheduled to take place between 2008-2010.
While that may feel a long way off, and the main construction work cannot start until all the necessary land has been acquired by the ODA, the reality is that the contracts and detailed planning for electrical power projects are going to start from autumn 2006 onwards. In fact, some of the preparatory work has begun, 50 electric pylons have already been removed from the main site.
Power will be fed to the Olympic site via 132kV direct to 11kV connections within the village. This involves taking the existing overhead lines and re-installing them underground. The power requirements created by the Olympics extend beyond the main site in the Lea Valley. Virtually everything to do with the Olympics is going to require a light being switched on, a computer powered or a phone call made. One of the biggest focus areas of the project has been the need to enhance the transport infrastructure in the South East.
Transport infrastructure
The Channel Tunnel high-speed rail-link is perhaps the most publicised, but there are also extensions to several underground lines, including the Jubilee, Northern and Central. The Docklands Light Railway sees what is perhaps the biggest change: its capacity will increase by 50%. New roads, including a new road bridge over the Thames, are proposed. Plus designated existing roads may need upgrading in terms of lighting and illuminated signage. There is also going to be a raft of new buildings that will need power including new hotels, train stations and construction sites.
Beyond the main Olympic village, there are other places in Greater London and the South East that will be involved, such as Eton Dorney in Berkshire for rowing and Waltham Forest in Essex for hockey, cycling and tennis. While some of these facilities exist, others will need to be built from scratch.
Clearly, the pressure on the UK’s already over-stretched power supplies will reach new levels. So, given the scale of the task in hand, where are the challenges and how can they be overcome?
In greenfield environments, installation of new power lines should be relatively straightforward. However, wherever construction work is taking place in areas being regenerated, the situation is quite different. Let us remind ourselves of exactly what is beneath our feet – a mix of different kinds of cable, some polymeric, some paper, other long-forgotten types and, in some cases, cable installed over a century ago. Record keeping in years gone by was not as thorough as it is today, meaning the companies tasked with extending existing cable links or making repairs may not know exactly what they are dealing with until the excavations have been made.
Many of these power projects are going to be taking place beneath roads and other busy areas. Legislation such as the Transport Management Act means utilities and contractors have precious little time in which to carry out construction work in urban areas. Add to the mix the fact these power cables are often sharing trenches with lots of other utilities and the picture becomes even more complicated, because the risk of inadvertent third party damage rises. So how can the electrical power industry address these issues?
Addressing the challenges
Clearly, planning and co-operation is going to be key. Apart from the winning construction consortium, a whole variety of utility companies – not just power, but water and other services – are going to need to collaborate together to ensure work is carried out quickly and efficiently. For example, it would make a lot of sense if once a trench is opened, all the installation by various utilities is carried out, rather than the trench being closed and then re-opened maybe several times. And by working in tandem, the risk of utilities and their contractors inadvertently damaging each other’s cables or pipes would be reduced.
For many years, there have been calls for utilities to work together in this way. In fact, the power utilities tend to communicate closely with one another already, albeit largely on an informal basis. Perhaps there is a need for a more structured approach.
Using the right equipment can make all the difference too. The choice of product can affect how quickly installation takes place, as well as future reliability. One example is jointing and terminating. Considering the many miles of cables that will need to be installed throughout the South East to support various aspects of the Olympics, directly or indirectly, electrical installers are going to be looking at creating thousands of cable joints and terminations between them.
It is widely appreciated jointing and terminating can have a huge impact on the smooth-running of any cable installation project. Areas to watch include the need to connect different kinds of cable, such as new polymeric cable to ageing paper (PILC) cable, or connecting different cross sectional areas and voltage classes. Creating joints like these can be tricky and, depending on the techniques used, can take anywhere from a few hours to a day to complete. The problem is that the installer may well not know what he is dealing with until the joint bay has been excavated.
Cold-applied technique
Using the cold-applied jointing and terminating technique, pioneered by 3M several decades ago and increasingly the preferred method of UK utilities, helps. This is because ranges such as 3M Cold Shrink enable virtually any two cables to be connected together using standard products, and bespoke products are available for the rare eventualities not covered in the main range. The cold-applied approach has other benefits, such as speed of installation and also very small joint bays.
To give an example, creating a medium voltage cold shrink joint, involving connecting paper and polymeric cabling, can take just a couple of hours. As a result, the installer can move on to the next project more quickly, speeding up the overall completion time of the Olympic project. Furthermore, the design of the joint and termination kits ensures a consistent level of installation quality, drastically reducing room for human error, meaning that the chances of faults in the future are lowered. Cold-applied cable jointing and terminating also have health and safety benefits: as no heat is required, gas bottles do not need to be used on site.
The importance of training
While using products such as cold-applied jointing and terminating helps to eliminate mistakes, there is no substitute for proper training. Collectively, the electrical power industry – utilities, manufacturers, installers – needs to focus more on ensuring everyone is trained to a high standard, and refresher training is carried out. This isn’t just for the Olympics, but for the future of the industry as a whole.
The 2012 Olympic Games are a massive opportunity for the UK, including the electrical and construction industries.
As Tessa Jowell was recently quoted as saying, “This is about much more than 29 days of sport in the summer of 2012. This huge and impressive power lines project shows our determination to leave a lasting legacy for generations to come, improving lives and changing the face of London forever. The games are a chance to showcase what we can all do and to forge a new standard in UK power installation.”