Powering the future

Randy Ortgiesen

Most people, including myself, often take for granted that electricity will be available every time we flip a switch to turn on a light, make a pot of coffee or power up thousands of components to operate Fermilab’s accelerators and detectors.

The complex production and delivery of electricity begins with the spinning of a generator, which can be powered from many different fuel sources. This creates the movement of electrons by stepping up and down the voltages for transportation and distribution, which is enhanced by protective relaying and circuitry.

When electricity is suddenly taken away, we certainly begin to appreciate it more. At home, we may scramble for a flashlight. Here at Fermilab, a team must undertake many activities to mitigate the adverse impacts of an unplanned shutdown of Fermilab’s scientific complex. The more reliable our electricity, the less vulnerable we are and the less likely we will have unplanned outages.

I am thrilled to report that through the efforts of many individuals at Fermilab, the Fermi Site Office, the Office of High Energy Physics and the Office of Science’s Laboratory Infrastructure program, we have received full funding to replace the Master Substation, perhaps the most critical element of the site’s electrical infrastructure.

The Master Substation served the laboratory well for 44 years, and all of the site’s electrical power passed through it for 28 years (the Kautz Road Substation was constructed in 1998 to serve the newly constructed Main Injector accelerator complex). It provided all the electrical power for the Tevatron and its glorious past and continues to provide power to all areas of the site, except the Main Injector accelerator complex. While it is an important part of Fermilab’s electrical infrastructure, it also represents the laboratory’s largest operational vulnerability because of its age. Despite a robust maintenance program, the equipment is outdated and, in many cases, obsolete. This has been the condition for the past several years and has been monitored closely, with backup plans developed where possible.

The replacement of the Master Substation will eliminate the laboratory’s largest single operational vulnerability, restore a high level of reliability and help position the laboratory for a promising future. Stay tuned to hear and see more about this over the coming months.

Randy Ortgiesen is the associate laboratory director for operations support.