person at desk

A power plant distributor and dispatcher could...

Reroute electrical current around transmission lines that were damaged in an ice storm. transmission lines broken from ice storm Order the start of extra power generators on hot days, so that there's enough electricity to keep everyone cool. dog and fan
Monitor the U.S. power grid to make sure that power generation matches power consumption. digitally drawn grid on city Prepare switching orders that will isolate work areas so that linemen can safely work on power lines. linemen
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Think of all the things in your home or school that use electricity, like the lights, TV, refrigerator, washer, microwave, music players, computer, and electronic devices. Now think of how you feel when the power goes out, even for just a moment. Power plant distributors and dispatchers have an important job—they work to keep electricity flowing to homes and businesses by carefully watching and planning for problems like big storms that could damage transmission lines, heat waves that cause a big surge in demand for power, or normal construction work, which could take transmission lines out of service.
Key Requirements Strong observational and logic skills, along with the ability to plan ahead and to communicate plans to others
Minimum Degree High school diploma or equivalent
Subjects to Study in High School Physics, algebra, geometry, algebra II, English; if available, computer science, statistics, applied technology
Median Salary
Power Distributor & Dispatcher
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Decline Slowly or Moderately (-3% to -9%)
Interview Read this article to meet William H. Smith, a member of the IEEE power engineering society, who describes the training that he feels is necessary to prepare for the power management during a blackout.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Dispatchers and distributors generally need a combination of education, on-the-job training, and experience. Candidates with strong computer and technical skills are generally preferred.

Education and Training

Employers often seek recent high school graduates for entry-level distributor and dispatcher positions. Workers with college or vocational school degrees will have more advancement opportunities, especially in nuclear power plants.

Workers selected for training as power plant distributors undergo extensive on-the-job and classroom instruction. Several years of training and experience are required for a worker to become a fully qualified control room operator or power plant distributor.

In addition to receiving initial training to become fully qualified as a power plant distributor or dispatcher, most workers are given periodic refresher training, especially the nuclear power plant operators. Refresher training is usually taken on plant simulators designed specifically to replicate procedures and situations that might be encountered at the trainee's plant.

Watch this video to see how power plant distributors and dispatchers, also called electric systems operators, ensure electricity in Alberta, Canada gets from where it is generated to our homes and businesses for consumption and remains sustainable and reliable now and into the future.

Nature of the Work

Electricity is vital for most everyday activities. From the moment you flip the first switch each morning, you are connecting to a huge network of people, electric lines, and generating equipment. Power plant operators control the machinery that generates electricity. Power plant distributors and dispatchers control the flow of electricity from the power plant, over a network of transmission lines, to industrial plants and substations, and, finally, over distribution lines to residential users.

Power distributors and dispatchers—also called load dispatchers or systems operators—control the flow of electricity through transmission lines to industrial plants and substations that supply residential needs for electricity. They monitor and operate current converters, voltage transformers, and circuit breakers. Dispatchers also monitor other distribution equipment and record readings at a pilot board—a map of the transmission grid system showing the status of transmission circuits and connections with substations and industrial plants.

Dispatchers also anticipate power needs, such as those caused by changes in the weather. They call control room operators to start or stop boilers and generators, in order to bring production into balance with needs. Dispatchers handle emergencies such as transformer or transmission line failures and route current around affected areas. In substations, they also operate and monitor equipment that increases or decreases voltage, and they operate switchboard levers to control the flow of electricity in and out of the substations.

Work Environment

Distributors and dispatchers who work in control rooms generally sit or stand at a control station. This work is not physically strenuous, but it does require constant attention. Operators who work outside the control room may be exposed to danger from electric shock, falls, and burns.

Because electricity is provided around the clock, distributors and dispatchers usually work one of three 8-hour shifts or one of two 12-hour shifts on a rotating basis. Shift assignments may change periodically, so that all operators share less desirable shifts. Work on rotating shifts can be stressful and fatiguing because of the constant change in living and sleeping patterns.

On the Job

  • Respond to emergencies, such as transformer or transmission line failures, and route current around affected areas.
  • Prepare switching orders that will isolate work areas without causing power outages, referring to drawings of power systems.
  • Control, monitor, or operate equipment that regulates or distributes electricity or steam, using data obtained from instruments or computers.
  • Coordinate with engineers, planners, field personnel, and other utility workers to provide information such as clearances, switching orders, and distribution process changes.
  • Direct personnel engaged in controlling and operating distribution equipment and machinery, for example, instructing control room operators to start boilers and generators.
  • Distribute and regulate the flow of power between entities such as generating stations, substations, distribution lines, and users, keeping track of the status of circuits and connections.
  • Monitor and record switchboard and control board readings to ensure that electrical or steam distribution equipment is operating properly.
  • Track conditions that could affect power needs, such as changes in the weather, and adjust equipment to meet any anticipated changes.
  • Manipulate controls to adjust and activate power distribution equipment and machines.
  • Calculate and determine load estimates or equipment requirements, in order to determine required control settings.
  • Record and compile operational data, such as chart and meter readings, power demands, and usage and operating times, using transmission system maps.
  • Inspect equipment to ensure that specifications are met, and to detect any defects.
  • Tend auxiliary equipment used in the power distribution process.
  • Accept and implement energy schedules, including real-time transmission reservations and schedules.
  • Repair, maintain, and clean equipment and machinery, using hand tools.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Power Distributor & Dispatchers

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