A young engineer in one of the classes asked me if there was a simplified, straightforward “how-to” book explaining the technologies that make up the transmission system. He had seen textbooks on various aspects of the electrical grid, but nothing that gave an overview of the entire system. He was looking for answers from a book, but I expect what he really needs is a mentor.
When so many utilities no longer have that technical guru, how can we position our upcoming engineers to surpass the master and, in so doing, move our industry forward?
Some 30 years ago, as a young substation engineer, I had access to many weathered engineers. When I had a problem or didn't understand something, I would ask one of them. Sure, I had all the “book learn'n” from school, but there was a critical missing part. At some point in the learning process, we find theory becomes reality, a vital step in the developmental process for the new engineer.
How does an engineer develop that kind of intuitive understanding of the grid? How do they know that by adding another transmission line the congestion problem moves to another node on the system rather than solves the problem? In the mainstream utility, it comes with experience gained under the tutelage of a master. Unfortunately, many of our industry mentors have retired or been given packages to leave the organization before passing on their hard-earned knowledge to their successors.
Fortunately, we still have veteran engineers willing and able to share their understanding. Last year I was a staff member at the first T&D World University. We had more than 200 engineers attending, which is an unbelievable number for a first-time conference. The most astounding statistic was that roughly 80% of those 200 were relatively new to the industry. They averaged anywhere from seven months to seven years in utility engineering. It was exciting to be in that environment.
So, how did T&D World University come into being? Credit that to the enthusiasm of utility host Oncor Electric Delivery. Rob Trimble, president and COO of Oncor Electric Delivery, jumped on the idea of the university, but he had ground rules. There were to be no promotional courses, no exhibitors and no extracurricular activities. This event was to focus on bringing expert instruction into one location to help the next generation to surpass the masters.
Trimble put it this way: “We are competing with other industries for engineers. Of course, we need to provide our next-generation employees with the tools to do their jobs, but we need to do more. We must provide work that is challenging and fulfilling if we are to recruit the best and brightest. And, with the difficulties we face in the energy industry today, engineers want to be part of the energy solution.”
Jim Greer, senior vice president of Oncor Electric Delivery, says his engineers are fully engaged, addressing the future with major investments in intelligent grid initiatives from the meter to the generator. Greer will be sharing his vision for “Building the Utility of the Future” at the opening luncheon.
I'm excited to say that industry is also getting behind this event. In addition to host utility Oncor Electric Delivery, currently we have three platinum sponsors: Burns & McDonnell, Power Engineers and Utilimetrics. We also have two bronze sponsors: Siemens and Stanley Consultants.
LEARNING IS ONE ON ONE
Last year I taught a four-hour T&D World University class on the “Life Extension of Aging Substations.” Don't underestimate the eagerness of our young engineers to learn from us old, wizened types. They were there to learn; they had real-world questions. And even better, they were willing to challenge the status quo and the master. It was quite exciting teaching pupils with so much enthusiasm and having the opportunity to pass on the torch. So this year when Editorial Director Rick Bush asked me to take a lead role in developing the program, I jumped at the chance.
Check out the program for T&D World University starting on page 65. One track we added has me totally pumped: “Theory Is Great, But How Do I Use It?”
Last year was quite an event, but Trimble challenged the steering committee to more than double the attendance and add more instructors, enabling us to cover more topics and thus have a bigger impact. In addition to courses on substation design, bulk power, overhead transmission, distribution, underground T&D and power quality, we are including courses on wind power, the digital utility, the digital customer connection and IT-enabled delivery.
I can't wait to see you Oct. 27-29 in Dallas, Texas, for T&D World University. Let's work together to assure we have the team in place that will enable us to build out a delivery system that will surpass even the expectations of the masters of the past.