Thursday, April 09, 2015
During the winter of 1991 I was working at an American-Turkish joint venture company in Ankara. We prepared a proposal to build a thermal power plant for a reputable Istanbulite firm. The company evaluated all the proposals submitted by interested parties and in the end it invited us to their head office in Istanbul in order to take part in negotiations on the final price that would be outlined in the contract. If a consensus was reached, the contract would be signed. On the day that we were scheduled to go to Istanbul we were experiencing heavy snowfall around Ankara. Commercial aircraft could not fly that day and we had made reservations for an overnight stay at the Hotel Pera Palas in Istanbul in advance. When we inquired at the sales office of Ankara Intercity Coaches, we were informed that buses were still running. We bought tickets and were scheduled to leave Ankara at 17:00 on a nonstop bus to Istanbul. We set out under heavy snowfall. I had a big briefcase with me full of thick files and other documents of great importance. I didn’t stow this briefcase in the baggage storage below and it didn’t fit in the overhead compartment. I kept the briefcase just at my feet the entire journey. I was traveling with our company’s General Manager Jeffrey Green and we chatted the entire way to Istanbul. It was here that Jeff said: “People always make mistakes, they always make wrong decisions. Something may also go wrong that is out of one’s control, and it is futile to place blame. It is not important to express regret. The important thing is to take corrective action to eradicate the error that was made as fast as possible. Quick recovery is key in business.” After stopping at Taksim Square at about 23:00, the coach continued down the road to the old city. We asked to be let off opposite the Hotel Pera Palas so that we would only have to walk a short distance to get to the hotel. We got off and the bus drove into the night. After a short moment I noticed that I forgot the briefcase on the bus. I told this to Jeff, and without any sign of anger he said, “Let's take a taxi and catch the bus.” It was late, midnight, but within a few minutes we were able to find a taxi. We could estimate the bus’s route, so went in the Eminönü-Aksaray-Bakirkoy direction, and in about half an hour, close to Ataköy, we caught the bus. Upon retrieving the briefcase, we returned to the hotel and went to sleep. The next day, after long and tiring negotiations, we signed the contract. The moral of the story is that when these misfortunes happen in business life it is important to amend the wrong by quickly taking the necessary corrective initiative. It is also important to learn from the mistake so as not to repeat it again. If you lose something valuable, you have to focus on finding it, and take away a lesson from the experience so that it is not repeated. In the worst case, you put everything on hold and renew the system completely. It is not the end of the world.
On 31 March 2015, we experienced such a misfortune, namely, a nationwide black-out which lasted almost eight hours. We now more or less know the reasons for the interruption. We are sure that the black-out was not the result of a computer virus or a cyber-attack on the computers of the national electricity transmission center. We know that the mismatched frequencies of high voltage electricity transmission lines could not be compensated for, as we had a break in the country’s main east-west high voltage transmission line. The system frequency fell in the western regions of the country and it rose in its eastern regions. We faced difficulties in loading and unloading demand. On Turkey’s southern coast, a new and important thermal power plant with a generation capacity of 1200 MW was unable to resolve the ongoing feed pump failure that had become apparent the previous night. The same failure happened the following morning at 10:36, and the power plant was shut down entirely. With this, the national power system lost a great source of generation capacity and its frequency fell below the tolerable level. As a result, in the west, two more large base-load thermal power plants with capacities of 1034 MWe and 799 MWe were forced out of the system due to this fall in the nationwide frequency. Turkey’s national electricity transmission company (TEİAŞ) dispatchers were unable to interfere as the available software at the main control center was ineffective in engaging in corrective intervention on existing transmission lines. The national grid fell piece by piece like dominoes, one after another in only a few seconds, until the system experienced a complete power outage that plunged the entire country into darkness. In order to protect itself, the European common energy pool (ENTSO-E) removed us from the system. After an 8-hour interruption, the black start was realized. Yet before this, fast trains, underground metro lines, traffic lights, airport control towers, hospital emergency rooms, and elevators could not be operated if they had no emergency power supply.
This chaos lasted 8 hours. What would have happened if we had had nuclear power plants running during that period, producing more than 5,000 MWe each? What would have happened after our transmission lines transmitted no more power? How would we have protected our high capacity power plants? We understand that there are weaknesses in our current energy transmission lines, as well as in our national control center. And we need to take corrective action. Privately-owned thermal power plants with high capacity base-loads have the tendency to respond slowly when it comes to loading and unloading electricity generation. Due to their expectations for high profits, they are reluctant to obey directions.
Turkey’s public electricity transmission company needs greater staff training, and funding to update their software in order to control the overall system. When a situation occurs such as the recent power outage, certain members of the staff must be granted protections so that they are able to take urgent action. There is no need to place blame. Yet, now we see that instead of supporting the corrective staff, most of our energy is focused on individuals that have now become scapegoats. We do not find this correct. It is not right to ask that the general manager of Turkey’s national power grid resign, nor is it correct to dismiss the staff. An eight-hour power outage is not the end of the world. Nonetheless, we must learn from this unfortunate occurrence to prevent it from happening again.
Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of ODTÜ Alumni and Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.
Ankara, 15 April 2015