Power Grids: To Infinity And Beyond


A global perspective isn’t enough in the 21st century. Technology expanded beyond the physical world when there was a convergence of information technologies and operational technologies, which combined the physical and virtual worlds into one, opines GENE WOLF.

We have all heard that old axiom, “Time flies when you’re having fun!” That’s what popped up into my mind as I talked with Nikki Chandler, our executive editor, about the upcoming 75th anniversary of T&D World. It’s going to be published later this year and it’s time to start thinking about it. Our last anniversary celebration was the 50th, in 1999. Much as I tried, I had trouble focusing on #75 because #50 kept interrupting my train of thought, Sorry Nikki. #50 was a big event for me.

The Millennium issue followed shortly after #50. That was the first issue that I joined the staff of T&D World, which brought me an unstoppable flood of memories. Yes, writers daydream a lot. It’s an occupational hazard for many of us, especially me. You see, T&D World also played an important part in the start of my engineering career. A whole lot of years before 1999, I had been hired as a substation engineer by the local electrical utility. Being fresh out of college, I had no idea what a substation was, or what being a substation engineer entailed. That didn’t stop me!

Before the Internet

Heck, one characteristic of youth is confidence, and I was young and confident. Whatever a substation engineer was, I could do it. Back in those days, universities were more focused on engineering (i.e., theories, philosophies, and principles) than something as frivolous as career direction. Luckily my supervisor had experience with new grads and knew their limitations. He gave me a handful of back-issues of some magazine named Transmission & Distribution (our predecessor). He told me, “READ THESE.” He also mentioned there would be a test when he took me to my first substation, so I paid attention.

I passed the test and was put in charge of the department’s vendor catalogues and brochures library. Keep in mind, back-in-the-day there were no webinars, online tutorials, or even the internet. The only technical data came from magazines like Transmission & Distribution and vendor catalogues. There were technical conferences, but like today, there was no budget to send personnel. It was challenging to say the least, but T&D had articles based on real-world experience, which was invaluable!

Those back-issues were full of substation-related articles plus lots of advertisements with photos, which helped visualizing how everything fit together. Talking with colleagues who grew up in this era, my experiences weren’t unique. Many said their early training was similar. Several pointed out those back-issues were always saved for future reference.

As my utility career progressed, there was a shift taking place within our industry toward digital technology and a more global viewpoint. My focus shifted too, digital technology was exciting, so I moved to a less conservative utility where they sent their staff to educational conferences. It was at one of these conferences that I met Rick Bush, then the editor-in-chief, of Transmission & Distribution World, and he started me writing magazine articles.

A Global View Isn’t Enough

He said it would change my perspective and it did. It turns out, however, a global perspective isn’t enough in the 21st century. Technology expanded beyond the physical world when there was a convergence of IT (information technologies) and OT (operational technologies), which combined the physical and virtual worlds into one. Now we have the domains of digital twins, virtual power plants, a self-aware grid to name a few, but our perspective continues to expand.

Power is going extraterrestrial. NASA’s technological advancements have been making news for decades with lunar rovers and Martian helicopters. Now it’s the preparations for permanent settlements on the moon and Mars, But how are we going to power? It’s an interesting question because there is an intriguing component associated with electrifying areas at the lunar polar regions.

The times of full sunlight are limited in these areas. Some areas receive only a few hours of sunlight. Engineers and scientists are speculating how to build extraterrestrial power grids connecting remote solar arrays to the settlements and the ideas are really innovative. Talk about expanding your viewpoint!

When Rick convinced me jump on board, I had no idea how much our power industry would change, or the impact technological would have in shaping the future power grid. Hey that sounds like the subject matter I need for our upcoming 75th anniversary issue. I better get my tablet off the charger. I need to make notes. Power grids, to infinity and beyond!

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