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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with Veronika Rabl and Damir Novosel on the IEEE Joint Task Force QER response

Veronika Rabl and Damir Novosel

The IEEE draft QER report on the United States Department of Energy (DOE) Quadrennial Energy Review is open for comment.

IEEE QER Joint Task Force leaders Veronika Rabl and Damir Novosel discuss IEEE's unprecedented response to the new White House Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) initiative, invited by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Veronika Rabl, chair of the IEEE-USA Energy Policy Committee and Damir Novosel, president-elect of the IEEE Power and Energy Society (PES), talk candidly about how quickly the IEEE Joint Task Force of knowledgeable volunteers across multiple societies was formed and able to deliver a draft response to the DOE priority issues in record time.

How did the IEEE-wide Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) initiative get started?

Damir Novosel: We understood that the U.S. DOE had been assigned to work on President Obama’s QER, and we thought it would be a good idea for IEEE, as an independent and objective organization, to provide input. All of the stakeholders that DOE is interested in addressing, including vendors, utilities, academics and regulators, are members of IEEE.

In parallel, both Veronika and I were talking to key people at DOE. Miroslav Begovic [IEEE PES President], Pat Ryan [IEEE PES Executive Director], and I met with Bill Hederman [deputy director for Systems Integration and senior advisor to the Secretary of Energy], emphasizing that we have a common mission to support the society. As they really liked the idea, considering that IEEE is objective, IEEE-USA and IEEE PES representatives got together with the DOE QER team and discussed how this collaboration could happen. DOE responded by requesting support on seven priority topics. Six of them are high priorities, one is a topic that we’ll be working on in the future.

Veronika Rabl: Prior to joining forces, we had several contacts with DOE, which occurred almost in parallel. I briefly spoke with Melanie Kenderdine [director of the Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis and energy counselor to the Secretary of Energy] at a meeting where she gave a presentation about the QER. She suggested I contact her and share our energy policy recommendations. In a subsequent IEEE-USA Energy Policy Committee meeting, we decided that, in addition to discussing our recommendations, we should offer to help with the QER. After all, the topics addressed in our energy policy document aligned well with the objectives of the QER. I was just about to set up that meeting when it turned out that PES was in a similar situation, where DOE had asked for its input. As a result, our first meeting with DOE was organized together.

How do you two think IEEE response is going to impact the energy policies in the US?

Novosel: The IEEE mission is to foster technological evolution and excellence for the betterment of society. Our IEEE message and the input that we have provided so far, including concrete recommendations on how to address power industry needs, have been very well received by the QER team at DOE. The QER team will incorporate our input into their document due to the quality and objectiveness of the report we’ve provided. The QER, in turn, is going to define the president’s energy policy going forward.

Obviously the United States government is not the only government dealing with grid modernization and energy infrastructure improvements. What would you say are the global implications and impacts of the IEEE’s input and the QER? What might this effort mean to other governments?

Novosel: Your question brings up an important point. Obviously, you cannot really separate what's happening in one part of the world from what's happening in the other parts of the world. So policies here have implications for the rest of the world. The DOE QER appreciated that we included that international perspective in our document. In fact, our report for the QER will be on the IEEE website and will be read by the people around the world. And we will be exploring how the document can work for other governments and non-governmental organizations around the world to promote the technological innovations we’ve identified, as our mission statement says, “for the benefit of humanity.”

Rabl: The many disruptive forces that create new pressures on the electric grid are global in nature. They are not unique to the U.S. Because of that we had many international participants on our QER Task Force teams, and I believe our report will indeed be read around the world.

The outside world tends to think of IEEE as a single, monolithic organization. So what are the implications of a joint IEEE task force, with seven teams working in unison? Why is that important?

Rabl: You’re right. To the rest of the world, IEEE is one organization. That was a major reason why we joined forces. We did not want to go to DOE as separate organizations, but rather as IEEE. And I'm thrilled that we were able to make that happen. Working across the IEEE’s societies enabled us to present our expertise as a single, unified organization for the greatest impact.

Novosel: The message is that IEEE, as the umbrella organization, can call on a vast, expert membership not only in the U.S., but around the world. We want to be sure that when we tap our membership for such an effort that we get the best results. In this case, we set aside our internal, organizational distinctions for a unified effort. This is somewhat rare and it worked. It transcends organizational distinctions.

We should mention that, in addition to Veronika and myself, the industry leaders’ task force included Jeffrey Nelson, Tom Schneider, John McDonald, Massoud Amin, Doug Houseman, Robin Podmore and Julio Romero Agüero. Jeffrey Nelson [IEEE PES Technical Council chair] included IEEE PES Technical Committees in the process to contribute to and review materials. As a result, each team leader had IEEE members from around the world to assist them.

What does the joint QER task force’s accomplishment say about IEEE's members and their abilities and their willingness to step up? The draft was done in two months; that’s amazing.

Rabl: I was amazed, as well. It was an outstanding effort. Our group of volunteers delivered a comprehensive, lucid, clean draft in about a month! Most of these people have full-time jobs, yet they were able to dedicate their time to develop this report. They understood that this was a great opportunity to influence the Administration's energy and technology policy. No one on the team had a particular agenda. We all worked together on synthesizing the latest understanding of the issues, how things work and what needs to be done.

The DOE QER report needs to be delivered to the Obama administration in January, so they need to finalize their report in October to go through the review process with all constituencies. DOE requested that we deliver a draft report by the end of June and a final report in August. IEEE-USA and IEEE PES met and discussed how best to deliver an influential report by volunteers on a very short deadline. In the two months between draft and final reports, we planned to put our report through a review process with our constituency, and with industry, which is taking place as we speak.

What motivated these volunteers to make such a focused, timely commitment?

Novosel: I believe that this is the first time that IEEE has been requested to participate in such an important government initiative. Our membership understands the value of this work and importance of IEEE providing independent and objective technical leadership to help our members, decision makers and users worldwide. Industry executives should appreciate that their employees are involved in this type of activity and should be motivated to encourage their participation in IEEE activities.

Rabl: Perhaps because it was such an incredible challenge. And, because of that, it was a privilege to work on it. We were presented with a set of fundamental questions and understood that our response may well impact the future of the power industry. Attempting to create this report in a month initially sounded next to impossible.

I also think that the depth and the breadth of the questions DOE provided attracted people to this task. As you’ll see, several of the questions required a deep technical or engineering understanding of the issues along with the breadth needed to present the response in the context of the system as a whole. In addition to developing a response, one of the major objectives was formulating this response in a language that was easily understood by the public, government officials and industry executives, who may not be experts in the field. They needed to understand what is doable with existing technology and what is not, and in what timeframe. So to return to your question: Why were people motivated? I don’t think IEEE has ever been given a challenge like this by the government. And IEEE members rose to the occasion. It’s that simple.

Drawing back the curtain on the process itself might inspire the broader IEEE membership and others who will read this interview. How did the process begin?

Rabl: It was launched in a phone call between Damir Novosel, Pat Ryan, Tom Schneider, a member and past chair of the Energy Policy Committee, and James Savage, an IEEE-USA legislative representative who works with our committee. By that time we had an idea of what questions the DOE wanted input on and thus we could decide how to proceed. Our first step was to get clarity from DOE on its needs, so that our efforts would be well focused. We drafted the letter and arranged a meeting with DOE to talk about it. I think until that meeting in which the DOE’s questions were clarified, a number of people at DOE might have thought, “Oh, well, just another organization that’s coming here trying to sell their widget or agenda.” And it was only when we met face-to-face and discussed the substance of DOE’s questions that I believe they understood that we are not selling widgets. We are delivering knowledge.

That really goes right to the heart of the IEEE’s value proposition to its members, doesn’t it? The IEEE’s members together create an incredible knowledge base and are motivated by challenges and, when called upon, really seize the moment.

Rabl: That’s right. My answer would be that membership in IEEE offers an unprecedented access to state-of-the-art knowledge. In the case of the IEEE QER Task Force, it was knowledge of anything that has to do with generating, transmitting and using electricity. And the depth and breadth of our membership also represents unparalleled networking opportunities. If you have a question, you can call a fellow member in any country on any continent and ask them, “Hey, I think you had to deal with something like this. What did you do?” So IEEE offers access to knowledge, the ability to collaborate, and the development of networks. We’re building knowledge as we participate in the process of sharing knowledge. As the success of the IEEE QER Task Force effort reveals, that really works. It’s an inspiring time to be a member.

Novosel: Veronika is absolutely correct. IEEE provides tremendous opportunities to learning new skills and technologies, anticipate up-coming issues and gain knowledge through international conferences and committee participation. Our organization provides cost-effective workforce training, e.g. through attending tutorials, and enables accelerated identification of best practices world-wide for process improvements. We enable participants to build a network of professional colleagues for fast access, advice and problem-solving.

IEEE develops standards and addresses key technical issues, such as the ones described in the IEEE QER report. Our goal is to enhance and protect current and future investments, shape industry practices and influence new developments.

Did the process work so well that such an effort could be repeated or inform a best practice for similar efforts, should the need arise?

Rabl: Everything in the QER report ties back to existing IEEE work – papers, proceedings, presentations. But this was no cut-and-paste job. The real effort required digesting a vast amount of knowledge, drawing conclusions and articulating a lucid statement that answered the DOE’s specific questions. And because each of the seven topics was related to each other, each of them had to reference the others.

Now, what precedent does that process create? Perhaps IEEE should start thinking about quick-response task force opportunities. In the process we went through, we recognized that there are synergies between different groups that can collaborate and create knowledge around a specific need rather quickly. Because these subject matter experts are up-to-speed in their fields and they’re familiar with the most current findings and published reports. It’s at their fingertips. And we all have very diverse backgrounds. So, across the membership of IEEE, there’s access to an immense diversity of knowledge and perspective, experience and skills that could be brought to bear on the urgent needs of society. On the Energy Policy Committee we recognize that the speed of change in the energy business requires that we revisit our policy recommendation on at least an annual basis. So opportunities to apply the IEEE QER Task Force process to urgent requests are out there.

Novosel: It is also important that Veronika and I were able to engage a task force of true industry leaders that were committed and knowledgeable, and had a great support by IEEE membership and IEEE staff, particularly Angelique Rajski and Randi Scholnick-Philippidis.

The final question is about leadership. You had a task force composed of nine highly knowledgeable, energetic, motivated people. How do you manage that for a successful outcome?

Rabl: It comes down to the ability to lead and manage teams. And we had team leadership. For instance, I didn’t really know Damir before this project. I’d met him, but I didn’t really know him. And at this point I have acquired an enormous respect for him. I wouldn’t hesitate to call on him with any question I might have, whether it’s technical or organizational. I think his skills in running a team are exemplary.

We’ve talked about the value proposition of IEEE membership and, for me, this project validated the value proposition. It was a great opportunity to meet people I didn’t know, expand my network of colleagues and, I have to say, friends. This was such a close collaboration that some of these interactions will inevitably turn to friendship. And, in fact, it has already. Someone on this project just asked me to help them with another project and now that I know this person, I have no hesitation about helping out. So that was a special thing for me. And, of course, I would like to involve all of these people in the IEEE-USA Energy Policy Committee activities. We should develop ways of working across IEEE more routinely. I’m sure Damir is thinking the same way.

Novosel: I agree with Veronika that this approach should become our practice. It was an enlightening experience to work with such a great industry leader as Veronika. Her dedication was inspiring to our task force. I hope we will have many more opportunities to work together. It is also important to acknowledge Jeffrey Nelson’s leadership in working with PES Technical Committees and managing the process. We all worked as a team and even if we initially disagreed on certain topics, we were able to find a solution. In summary: great team gets great results.

It is now important that the wider IEEE community reviews and provides additional feedback to the IEEE QER report by mid-August. As the report is posted on the IEEE PES web site, we will be collecting information and incorporating it in the report.

Open for Comment
If you are interested in reviewing and commenting on the IEEE QER report, please visit the IEEE PES web site at www.ieee-pes.org/qer.

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IEEE Joint Task Force Members

IEEE Joint Task Force Leads:
D. Novosel, V. Rabl, J. Nelson

Section Leads:
T. Schneider/J. R. Agüero, J. McDonald, M. Amin, D. Houseman, R. Podmore

Direct Contributors and Technical Committee Leads:
P. Ryan, J. Savage, L. Bertling, T. Pierpoint, S. Bahrimarad, D. Brotzman, S. Skarvelis-Kazakos, G. Ballassi,
ML Chan, M. Dood, R. Hedding, and many more.