IEEE Power & Energy Society Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Popular Conference and Expo

By Chris McManes

Is it possible the IEEE Power & Energy Society’s flagship event is too good?

The IEEE PES Transmission & Distribution Conference and Exposition, 14-17 April at McCormick Place in Chicago, has grown into the place to be for those in the electric power industry.

The biannual gathering better known as T&D offers such high-quality technical presentations and panel sessions in addition to its vast trade show, that it can be a challenge for attendees to take advantage of it all.

A gentleman told me our technical conference was almost too good, said Tommy Mayne, PES vice president of meetings. He said, I wanted to make sure I attended these technical sessions, but I need to go to the floor to see the equipment.’

And that’s a great problem to have.

T&D is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and has grown exponentially since the inaugural event in 1964. How big is it? For starters, more than 780 companies that manufacture the equipment and produce the software that delivers electricity safely and reliably will be on hand. More than 13,500 people will be roaming throughout the showroom floor to learn more about the industry’s latest products, services and technologies.


The number of exhibitors is a new show record.

And T&D attracts power engineering professionals from all over the world. Eighty countries will be represented in Chicago. Host utility ComEd will be among the Top 20 U.S. utilities attending.

If there’s one conference you can go to, Mayne said, this is the one because it’s got everything you want.

Jim MacInnes, vice chair of the IEEE-USA Energy Policy Committee, and his wife, Chris, are co-owners and operators of Crystal Mountain Resort in northern Michigan, where they have their own 12.47 kV distribution system. He attended his first T&D in Orlando, Fla., in 2012.

I thought for anyone who’s interested in seeing the latest and greatest in transmission and distribution equipment, as well as software, it’s an exceptional place to be, MacInnes said. You can see a lot of that equipment up close and talk to a lot of experts.

Trade Show Executive honored T&D 2012 with one of its Fastest 50 awards for being among the top trade shows in the country. It was recognized for its growth in attendees and exhibitors.


It’s interesting that it’s our 50th year and we got named to the Fastest 50, Mayne said before adding, I wish I was 50 years old, but that’s a different story.

The T&D technical program features 350 panel and poster sessions, tutorials, an educational track and forum sessions. CEUs and PDHs are available. The Museum of Science and Industry will host the opening reception.

T&D strives to maintain that balance, where we have an extremely good technical program to complement the equipment side, Mayne said. I think we’ve got the best of both worlds.

Conferees also have the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of technical tours of nearby industrial facilities, including, among others, the Lee/DeKalb Wind Energy Center, ComEd’s Operations Control Center, the Illinois Institute of Technology’s smart microgrid and Exelon City Solar, the largest urban solar power plant in the United States.

Mayne, a retired professional engineer from Lacombe, La., who worked 35 years for Entergy Corp., served as T&D director from 1999 to January 2014. His first volunteer position with the event was registration chairman for the 1989 show in New Orleans. He’s excited T&D is celebrating its 50th anniversary and that many past executive committee members are attending.

It’s going to be nice to see some of the old folks and celebrate with them for being part of 50 years of engineering excellence, Mayne said. ;I’m always pumped about this show; it just amazes me that it does what it does.

The theme for this year’s conference is The Next 50. Futurist Daniel Burrus is the opening speaker.

We’ve been doing great, but hey, let’s look ahead,Mayne said. Where do we go now? What is the next 50 years going to bring? If you think about the technology changes of the last 50 years in our industry, gee whiz, the next 50 years are just mind-boggling to even think about.

We’re looking back to say thanks and learn from the past, but hey, we’re moving forward. That’s what we have to do.

Smart Grid and T&D

One of the biggest recent developments in the power industry is the advent of Smart Grid, a term coined by PES volunteer and University of Minnesota professor Dr. Massoud Amin. Smart Grid is the modernization of the electric power system through the application of the latest computer, control and communications technology.

Mayne has in the past few years seen a host of Smart Grid exhibitors and presenters. But when he speaks with attendees about what keeps them up at night, he says the vast majority express concern about infrastructure.

How do we upgrade our infrastructure? he said. Those poles and wires and breakers are all getting old. And we have to maintain that infrastructure. If we can upgrade our infrastructure and implement the new Smart Grid technology at the same time, now we’ve got something going. That’s the real mixture that we’re looking for.

The hardening of the grid is always on the minds of utility company executive and engineers.

You’ll see us talk about Smart Grid in one session and then talk about infrastructure and hardening of the system in another, Mayne said. Hardening of the system is what you do to prepare for disasters, what you do for hurricanes and earthquakes and snowstorms to make our aging system able to withstand that and still maintain reliability.

It’s a real interesting mix of what’s going on in the industry today. And we’re part of it. That’s what I love about this conference. It allows us to look at the practical side of the world. It’s not an academic conference; it’s much more for practitioners.

MacInnes enjoyed many of the presentations two years ago in Orlando.

I thought there were some very good talks, he said. I’m interested in the grid and what’s going on. I believe that upgrading the power grid is the secret sauce for incorporating a higher penetration of renewables. So it was really good to attend the sessions.

There were some ISO electrical engineers there who were talking about some of their work on operations research and optimizing the grid. That was very interesting.

As CEO of Crystal Mountain, a family resort offering year-round activities, MacInnes is particularly concerned about taking care of his property.

There was a session [at T&D 2012] on asset management predicting the lives of some large power transformers and just, in general, how you make sure that you repair and then replace at the appropriate time, he said. For example, transformers have a certain life and while they are long-lived, you don’t want to take it right to the end because the lead time on replacing a transformer can be quite long.

I found that talk very interesting.

Show History

T&D began as the Technical Conference and Exposition on Underground Residential Distribution at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, 21-23 April 1964. It was sponsored by IEEE committees on Insulated Conductors and Transmission and Distribution.

The conference drew registrants from 46 states, seven Canadian provinces, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Bermuda, the June 1964 issue of Spectrum magazine reported. More than 50 exhibitors showed equipment used in underground installation and operation.

Subsequent events, according to Mayne, were held every 30 months and alternated between spring and fall. Nature intervened in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, where T&D was scheduled for that October. So conference organizers pushed it back to the spring of 2006 and staged it in Dallas. It has been an every-other-year springtime show ever since.

By that time, we made the decision that 30 months was too long because technology was moving so fast, but [holding it] every year was too close, so we said let’s have it in the spring and let’s have it every two years, Mayne said.We were already thinking about doing it, but Katrina gave us the opportunity to make that happen.

Building Relationships

Because T&D keeps attracting more exhibitors, including those in 10×10 booths that Mayne calls the conference’s bread and butter, it has not raised the attendee registration fee in eight years.

And rather than accept sponsorships, Mayne encourages exhibiting companies to take that money and put it into their marketing and booth to make their show area better and attract more people. He doesn’t view event participants as customers, but partners. Dallas will host the 2016 conference.

I like to say we partner with folks, he said.We partner with our exhibitors; we partner with our attendees; we partner with the hotels; we partner with the city we’re having it in. That makes it a win-win situation for everyone.

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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