Goodbye, Windy City Hello, Big Easy

The 2008 IEEE PES Transmission & Distribution Conference and Exposition blew out of Chicago just as fast as it had blown into the Windy City. The April 21-24 event drew thousands of attendees and exhibitors from around the globe. According to event planners, 23 countries, outside the United States, were represented, including attendees from Asia, Africa, India, South America, Central America, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Europe and many other places far and wide.

I was asked to try to capture the many details of this year's large-scale show and reveal the human side of the event. The expo was more than technology on display. It was the stories and experiences of everyone involved: the attendees, organizers, exhibitors, students and volunteers. By blogging, the expo was wired into today's communications technology as never before. For those who missed it, it can be read at http://ieee-pes-td.com. I also included pictures and video. As word circulated about the Show Blog, I started being called the Blogger, the Bloggist, the Bloggster and, my favorite, the Blogmeister by those I met on the floor.

With more than 32 years experience designing and building electrical substations along with other high-technology facilities, founding an engineering consulting company, serving as chairman of the PES Transmission & Distribution Committee and being a fellow of the IEEE, the organizers felt I would bring a different perspective of the show to a blog. I doubt they expected a piece on elephant gestation periods, however.

Having written so many blog entries during the show, it became apparent they needed to be organized into various categories, including All Things IEEE, Chicago Experiences, Everything Smart Grid, Presentation Highlights, Show Events, Show Floor Zingers, Substation Updates, Transmission Technologies, University Insights, and Upfront and Personal.

A FOCUS ON STUDENTS

With so much going on at the show, it was impossible to be in all places at all times. I found this out the hard way, but it made an interesting blog entry, “Boy is My Face Red.” While I lined up some industry folks to talk to a group of New Mexico State University electrical engineering students, I missed the opening session. Wanda Reder, the IEEE PES president, was there making the big announcement that the name of the Power Engineering Society had been officially changed to the Power & Energy Society. Reder pointed out the name change allows the PES to reach other professionals who are playing more of a role in the electric utility industry as different technologies emerge. “Undoubtedly, this change is needed and the time is now,” Reder said. “We are moving into the future as the IEEE Power & Energy Society while maintaining our brand identity as PES.”

Yes, I missed it and did not report the name change in the blog, but I did get the students in to see a couple of good demos.

And that's important. Students and young engineers played a big part at the IEEE PES T&D show. From hosting a three-hour session on the aging workforce to holding a successful student job fair, there's no doubt PES is reaching out to the next generation.

The first-ever Collegiate Job Fair held at the IEEE PES T&D show gave dozens of fresh-faced undergrads and graduate students the opportunity to speak with representatives from 50 industry-leading companies, which really excited both the students and the representatives.

The companies were pleased with the job fair. “We have two or three entry-level positions we're trying to fill, and this is a good place to find potential employees,” said Liz Cook, power systems engineer for Mitsubishi Electric Power Products.

The job fair was just one of the many events that were part of the PES Collegiate/GOLD (graduates of the last decade) Program at the show. There was also a student poster contest in which 41 student posters were displayed, an exclusive reception for students and the under-30 crowd that included an informal career panel session and the Collegiate/GOLD/Industry Luncheon, which had an astounding 487 in attendance. Students also participated in an event called Tour the Floor.

SHOW PREPARATION

I was able to go behind the scenes of the IEEE PES T&D show, too. While dodging forklifts, I realized there's a lot of work that goes into planning such a large-scale event. Talking with Tommy Mayne, PES North American T&D chair, and Carl Segneri, chair of the 2008 PES T&D show, gave me a pretty good perspective from the organizer's viewpoint. The undertaking is awesome, but runs so smoothly that most attendees never consider what it takes to keep them so unaware.

From calling for papers and coordinating speakers to assigning rooms for presentations and drawing up a schedule, IEEE PES event planners covered all the bases so that the show ran smoothly for attendees. The host utility of this year's show, ComEd was a huge help in producing such a successful show. Furthermore, the more than 270 volunteers from the local utility and industrial companies could be seen everywhere in their brightly colored shirts at the convention center. They answered countless questions and directed hundreds of attendees to where they wanted to go.

I talked to various exhibitors to get their take on preparing for the show. With around 700 exhibitors showing off the latest and greatest in transmission and distribution products and services, the exhibit hall was the main attraction. And for good reason, considering the amount of time, money, thought and effort the exhibitors put into their spaces.

What do they go through to have the attention-grabbing floor space everyone will be talking about years later? This was the subject of a blog, “It's the Experience.” The amount of resources committed to an exhibit was remarkable. GE's exhibit was a comfortable habitat for attendees. It was about the total experience of thinking “outside the bowl.” There were fresh-baked cookies — that got my attention. Audio/visual technology was inclusive, but not intrusive. To achieve that goal, 50 to 60 people (engineers, designers, A/V experts, computer geeks, technicians, you name it) worked on this exhibit for three to four months — that is a lot of man-hours. The entire exhibit, a 60-ft by 60-ft space, was assembled and tested. It was then taken apart and packaged for shipment to Chicago.

I also wrote about other exhibitors' preparations. Steven Strand from S&C told about planning, designing, building and staffing an exhibit. He told me S&C had a very large, if not the biggest, display in the show. Chicago is their home and they are proud of it. They started working on the 2008 Chicago expo the day after the 2006 Dallas expo closed. S&C started manufacturing equipment the first week of January. Dozens of contractors and employees were committed to the effort. It took them four to five days to set it all up and was staffed with close to 200 sales people from around the world.

AN EYE TOWARD THE BIG EASY

In addition to roaming the exhibit hall, I sat in on many technical sessions. The super session on the Smart Grid was, well, super. It was standing-room only. The engineers seemed to be soaking up every word. I noticed a photo I published had caught an engineer sound asleep in his chair — hope his boss doesn't read blogs. I am sure the attendees now have a better understanding of this Smart Grid, at least the non-sleepers do.

I also checked out a panel session on high-voltage direct current. My buddy Wayne Litzenberger made a great HVDC presentation there. A strange thing happened, too. The room was full, my cell phone vibrated; when I stood up to answer my phone, someone jumped into my seat. It was a great session even if I did stand through it.

Of course, after the sessions, attendees would gather at the many receptions, hosted either by IEEE PES or by exhibitors. I was no different. I particularly enjoyed the IEEE PES's opening reception at Chicago's world-renowned Museum of Science and Industry. The last count I heard was over 4200 attendees came to the reception at the museum, but it never seemed crowded. The biggest problem was getting everyone to go home — the food was way too good, what a choice and what a variety. The band was great and visiting with old friends made it hard to get around quickly.

At the end of show, IEEE PES held a closing ceremony and reception (more good food) to say goodbye to the Windy City and hello to the Big Easy with New Orleans-style festivities.

Once the show was over, I felt I needed to sum up the 2008 IEEE PES show with the postings of a couple video montages, originally posted on You Tube, of scenes from the exhibit hall and from the city of Chicago. IEEE PES is looking ahead to a good time in 2010 in New Orleans and so am I. As Tommy Mayne always says to me, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” (Let the good times roll!)

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