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PES in Vancouver

Scenes from the Opening ReceptionGeneral meeting tackles hot topics

The seaside ambiance of hospitable Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, inspired the IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES) General Meeting in late July 2103, where more than 3,000 PES members from 58 countries gathered for the Society’s business and efforts aimed at “Shaping the Future Energy Industry,” the meeting’s theme.

Whether attendees were en route to membership or committee meetings, super sessions, tutorials, technical sessions or receptions, opportunities abounded for networking. The city’s famed waterfront offered a scenic backdrop to catch up with colleagues and friends and enjoy this Pacific Rim gem’s famously diverse cuisine.

The official proceedings got underway on 22 July as PES President Noel Schulz addressed a packed ballroom, reminding attendees of the opportunities and responsibilities afforded by PES membership, as well as progress on 2013 goals.

Progress in 2013

PES efforts in 2013 focused on expanding the diversity of membership, including a new initiative, Women in Power, and increasing the value of membership, Schulz told the audience. IEEE Electrification Magazine, a new quarterly publication, was scheduled to arrive in members’ mailboxes in the fall and available online thereafter. And the expansion of PES-sponsored, smart grid-related conferences across the globe offer more regional opportunities to participate in PES activities, she added.


The theme for the year’s plenary session was shaping the future energy industry.

Schulz showed a graphic of The Pipeline, a concerted effort to attract and retain PES members from grades K–12 through senior technical leadership, which remains an ongoing priority for the Society. One measure of success in these efforts: global PES membership surpassed 30,000 in 2013, and student chapters have grown 100% over the past four years, Schulz said.

The year 2013 was the year of the volunteer, and PES efforts focused on raising awareness of the opportunities for volunteer leadership in myriad areas, from PES governance to technical committees. Looking ahead, PES candidates for president-elect, secretary, and treasurer were given the floor to articulate their view of the Society’s priorities for 2014–2015.

Past-President Al Rotz made an eloquent plea for support for the PES Scholarship Plus program, designed to assist undergraduate students in North America. The program awarded 228 scholarships at 100 universities last year, more than double the prior year.

Themes at the Plenary Panel

The opening day’s plenary panel focused on the General Meeting’s theme, ­“Shaping the Future Energy Industry,” and offered a diverse glimpse into the successes and challenges of grid modernization from the perspective of the conference’s host utility, a vendor, and a researcher.

BC Hydro’s executive vice president for transmission and distribution, Greg Reimer, welcomed attendees and said that British Columbia’s outsized natural beauty and resources came with considerable challenges.

A well-attended super session, “Managing Extreme Events,” provided insights [about] the impacts of recent extreme weather events.

The province is larger than France and Germany combined, with only 4.5 million people, leaving vast swaths of rural country. The province runs on more than 90% renewable energy in the form of hydro power but taking that power to underserved rural areas via new transmission lines challenges BC Hydro planners, according to Reimer. Native and resident sensitivity to transmission line routing and tower siting means that planning new T lines, rather than building them, is the more difficult task.

Edmund Schweitzer, founder of ­Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Inc. (SEL), said that as protection schemes have become digital and distributed, control designs and devices would follow suit. The challenge of the future, Schweitzer said, is to develop technology and analytics to anticipate and prevent instability, particularly on a grid with faster dynamics and intermittent, renewable generation sources. ­Ultimately, the grid would benefit from automated, wide area control, he said.

Mark McGranahan, vice president for power delivery and utilization at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), articulated the difference between reliability and resilience. Improving the latter, a topic highlighted by Hurricane Sandy, is a three-pronged challenge: prevention (grid hardening), response, and customer resilience. Hardening covers traditional practices such as vegetation management and selective ­undergrounding of power lines but might extend to new hydrophobic coatings that prevent ice buildup. Smart grid technologies are integral to all three aspects of resilience, McGranahan said.


The poster session was well attended on all accounts.

Technology for damage assessment that already exists, such as unmanned aerial vehicles and customers with mobile video capabilities, will increasingly be brought to bear on the problem, in McGranahan’s view.

In fact, the integration of new and existing technology is critical, the EPRI executive said, and the field presents a “wide open R&D opportunity.” Improving situational awareness could yield the most benefit, McGranahan said, but cost/benefit analyses to optimize investments are needed.

Weathering the Storm

A well-attended super session, “Managing Extreme Events,” provided insights that ranged from the impacts of recent extreme weather events along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard to the record-setting blackout in India last year that affected nearly 700 million people. In discussing the causes, impacts, and recovery process, panelists touched on many fundamental challenges facing the power industry in the 21st century.

In the United States, several factors are combining to produce a “new normal” in customer and regulatory expectations for service, according to panelists. Customers are expecting instant restoration after major storms. Regulators are demanding intensely detailed, new recovery plans to hold utilities accountable. EEI mutual aid rules are being circumvented by utilities, which are competing for crews from other utilities. Yet the timeframe for grid modernization remains lengthy, measured in decades.

It’s well known that the three major storms that struck the U.S. Northeast in 2011 and 2012 wreaked havoc with millions of customers. But consider the challenge in Florida’s Hurricane Alley, where 90% of Florida Power & Light’s (FP&L) 4.6 million accounts live within 20 mi of the coast, said Tom Gwaltney, FP&L’s director of central maintenance and construction. The frequency of severe storms over the past decade has lead FP&L to revamp its vegetation and asset management programs and institute an annual, two-day dry run to test the training and readiness of the utility’s crews for major disasters, Gwaltney told the audience. FP&L has also created a Distribution Performance and Diagnostic Center, devoted to collecting and analyzing data in pursuit of predictive intelligence for storm impacts and the development of proactive policies.

Cheri Warren, vice president for asset management at National Grid, described how, in the wake of the extreme weather in the Northeast in 2011–2012, including a rare tornado in Massachusetts in June 2011, her utility developed an app(lication) for under US$100,000 that provides customers and local government officials with near-real-time data on the extent of outages and the status of restoration work. National Grid has developed a Predictive Storm Damage Modeling Tool to help it prepare crews and allocate resources even before an approaching storm strikes.

The challenges of wide-scale blackouts in developing nations are considerably different, according to S.C. Srivastava, a professor of electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur, who analyzed the July 2012 blackout that affected nearly 700 million people in India. A confluence of supply and load factors, a lack of intervention by operators and, possibly, faulty design in protection and control schemes have been implicated in the event, Srivastava said. The sheer scale of the India blackout was daunting: it affected nearly 50% more people than the six biggest blackouts of the past 50 years combined.

Throughout the week-long General Meeting, attendees from both developed and developing nations around the world shared the dais to offer lessons learned and exchange insights borne of hard-won experience. Yet their goal was the same: shaping the future energy industry.

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