James Eade is the leading consultant for an electrical speciality that may not be familiar to most electricians: temporary power systems. As Head of Energy, he project-managed the delivery of event power supply to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, which involved 125 generators delivering 26 MVA of power, 400,000 litres of fuel, 2,000 distribution boards, 500km of cable and 3MVA of batteries – installed, used and removed within a few weeks. James has also deployed his expertise in concerts for bands like U2, TV shows such as Strictly and blockbusters like HBO hit Game of Thrones.
He is the author of Temporary Power Systems, the IET guide to the application of BS 7671 and BS 7909, The IET Practitioner’s Guide to Temporary Power Systems and the IET Code of Practice on In-service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment (ISITEE). He also writes for the IET’s Wiring Matters publication.
In this chat with Ireland’s Electrical Magazine, James shines a light on the peculiarities of this little-known side of the electrical business and talks about how Covid decimated the sector and the serious shortage of skilled professionals following this career path.
IEM: What can be considered a temporary power system?
JE: It’s any system that’s not permanently installed, but it doesn’t have to be related to an event or a show. During the construction of a railway, for example, there are temporary offices, buildings and infrastructure to service the work: they are all there for a set period, and hence are temporary.
IEM: How else do temporary systems differ from installed systems?
JE: The main difference is the absence of permanent infrastructure to fix cabling to. Another is that the source of supply is typically one or more generators. These days, they are augmented with battery storage systems to make hybrid units. Installers need to understand the characteristics of the supply (or the transfer from generator to inverter, for example) and the resilience requirements. If you’re doing a big festival and you have 20,000 people in a field, you need backup measures and resilient supplies for safety services in case a generator fails. It requires more planning and thought than a typical installation.
Another big difference is the cabling and protection because you are laying cables on the floor. You need to think about residual current protection throughout the distribution, not just on final circuits. You must also be prepared for when someone plugs in a dodgy bit of kit backstage so that it doesn’t trip the RCDs on the generator, for example. It’s all standard electrical design work, but the installer must have a good skill level to understand different types of RCDs, their operating characteristics, selectivity and also fault-finding. If something goes wrong half an hour before the doors open, you must think fast on your feet. A show or broadcast rarely gets cancelled for (genuine!) technical reasons.
IEM: How did Covid affect the industry?
JE: Everything stopped overnight. There were tours and shows ready to go, and they were all called off. For a lot of talented people from production teams, their livelihoods disappeared. Much of the industry is freelance, so they weren’t in any furlough schemes and a number haven’t returned.
Now the entertainment industry is busy again, but, unfortunately, it has become harder to find skilled people to work for production companies. The sector needs staff desperately.
IEM: Could this be a career path that many electricians are not aware of?
JE: Entertainment and events are a largely unknown side of the electrical business. A lot of installers aren’t aware of it as an “industry” unless they happen to be in a band, work in a theatre or have a mate who is a DJ. Yet in terms of value, the events and entertainment industry is big, comfortably ahead of the aviation sector in the UK, for example.
This career path for electricians is maturing slowly and becoming more recognized through education. Thanks to government subsidies, Northern Ireland is now a very popular location for shooting TV shows and films, so it’s a burgeoning industry with great opportunities.
IEM: You are now a leading expert in the industry in the UK and internationally. How did you get started?
JE: I began lighting plays at school and realised this could be a career path, but back then there was no established route. When I told my father I wanted to work in lighting, he said, “Fine, you can do it for a few years and then get a proper job.” With lighting being the major user of power at most events, the power side took over and led me to where I am today.
For those wanting to get involved, sadly there are still no established routes. The best thing is to search online for event/film/tv power and lighting and see what comes up. You would be surprised at what is out there, so give them a call. If you are a qualified electrician, they will be glad to hear from you. It’s a very personable business and if you are good and helpful, your name will quickly get known and before you know it, you could be on a world tour.
Learn more about temporary power systems and the courses provided by James Eade at eade.uk.com