The IEEE Power & Energy Society General Meeting brings together many of the top power engineers in the world, sharing their knowledge and insight through papers, posters, panels and informal networking.
Included among the record 3,394 attendees at the 2015 PES event were many students and young professionals. Wanda Reder, IEEE Division VII director and former PES president, noticed the energy they infused throughout the meeting.
“You walk around the hallway, you come into these meeting rooms, and the excitement from the folks who are coming into this industry is so prevalent,” Reder said. “There is definitely a lot of interest, and I think the technology [and] vision for the future is really coming out in the culture, the technical talks, and the like.”
The opening plenary session, at the Sheraton Denver Downtown, 26-30 July, had two panels of experts, and was aptly entitled, “Powering Up the Next Generation.”
Panel 1, “Next Generation Technology and Drivers,” featured Dr. Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Dr. David Sun, chief scientist in Alstom Grid Network Management Solutions; and Mark McGranaghan, vice president of power delivery & utilization, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).
The second panel, “Planning for and Operating the Next Generation Grid,” featured Joe Bladow, senior vice president for transmission, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association; Dr. Martin Braun, professor for Energy Management and Power Systems Operation at the University of Kassel (Germany); and Teresa Mogensen, senior vice president of transmission, Xcel Energy.
PES President Dr. Miroslav Begovic, head of the Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M University, chaired the session.
Moving to a Cleaner Energy Future
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2014, coal accounted for 39 percent of the electricity generated in the United States. Natural gas was second at 27 percent, followed by nuclear at 19. Renewable sources of energy — hydropower, biomass, geothermal, solar and wind — accounted for about 13 percent.
By contrast, Canada gets 65 percent of its electricity from renewables. And Germany’s goal is to have 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2050.
Arvizu said that worldwide in 2013, more clean energy capacity was installed than fossil fuel capacity.
“By the year 2025, three-quarters of the new capacity addition will come from [renewables], and it will be primarily wind and solar, not from hydro,” Arvizu said. “More than two-thirds of our overall capacity generation will come from clean sources, with a diminishing part from fossil energy sources.”
The renewables are considered clean, because they do not release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. During the manufacturing process of solar panels and wind turbines, however, electricity generated from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, oil) could have been used. Coal releases the most harmful emissions.
A major goal of many states and countries is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy efficiency. That’s why non-carbon-producing renewable energy is increasingly the generation source of choice. The European Union, for example, wants to reduce its greenhouse gas production by 80 to 95 percent by 2025.
The technology needed to achieve this goal is being developed today.
“The amount of research going on in the laboratory is absolutely phenomenal,” Arvizu said. “… The technology we had in the laboratory [in the 1970s is] today’s commercial products.”
The modernization of the electric grid, and the desire to deliver electricity while reducing the damage we do to our planet, makes it a great time to be in the electron-moving business.
“We’ve got a ton of opportunity with technological innovation, and what these technological innovations can deliver,” Xcel Energy’s Mogensen said. “[We have] huge, high potential: options, choices, efficient utilization, network value, that we’ve got the opportunity to deliver — just by virtue of being able to connect all these producers and consumers.”
The transformation will carry some pain. For example, many people favor electricity generated from solar farms and wind turbines, which tend to be located away from population centers. Getting that power to where most of the demand is — where people live, work and play — requires huge transmission towers and large wires. But no one seems to want those running anywhere close to their neighborhood.
“The biggest obstacle,” Mogensen said, “is mostly not technological on a case-by-case basis. The first step is integrating all of these different technologies, and integrating them and dealing with the communications and security on net of that combined aspect.
“Then we have the challenge of transforming that system of tomorrow, while we’re simultaneously [and] reliably operating the system of today. It’s not necessarily an easy task. It can be done, but it’s a challenge; and it’s an obstacle — in some cases — to the pace of change.”
Public Policy Will Help Shape the Grid
Overcoming these challenges goes beyond the technology.
“There is a public policy aspect to it, and there [are], in fact, forces that will ultimately be the drivers of the capital investments required to do the transformation,” Arvizu said. “So, all three will be part of this system.”
Tri-State’s Bladow said we have to balance the innovations with the infrastructure we already have.
“We have to make sure that we, together, educate policymakers and the public on what can happen — and maybe some of the things that are a little too far down the road, that we don’t think we can make quite at this point,” Bladow said.
“I think ‘balance’ is a really good word,” Mogensen said, “because we — in operating utilities and dealing with all the different stakeholders who want all different things, and the regulators who hold the purse for the utilities — we have to come up with an approach that makes sense, and addresses the affordability concern.”
IEEE-USA’s strong suit is in helping to fashion U.S. public policy that is favorable to engineers, scientists and other technology professionals, while also benefitting citizens.
Veronika Rabl, chair of IEEE-USA’s Energy Policy Committee, recently teamed with PES President-Elect Damir Novosel to chair the IEEE Joint Task Force on the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), requested by the White House.
Released in April, the resulting Department of Energy report focuses on energy transmission, storage and distribution infrastructure. IEEE’s greatest contribution, in the chapter, “Modernizing the Electric Grid,” contains 12 major findings. The PES General Meeting featured a panel discussing the QER.
IEEE Connecting Engineers Worldwide
Many of the challenges the United States faces in designing a clean, safe, modern, affordable, resilient and reliable grid are the same in other parts of the world. EPRI’s McGranaghan thinks IEEE is an “ideal home for collaborating and coordinating on these challenges, primarily because of its international scope.
“The problems are the same everywhere around the world,” McGranaghan said. “They are cross-cutting problems, and that makes it even more exciting. We have data analytics. We have customer behavior. We have communications. We have power electronics. Almost every IEEE society is supporting the Smart Grid initiative, because it really is a cross-cutting thing.”
Today and tomorrow’s power engineers are on the precipice of an energy revolution.
“It’s an exciting time to be in this business,” Arvizu said. “It is not going to be easy, but I think the future holds a lot of promise.”
Chris McManes is IEEE-USA’s public relations manager.