Interview with Aaron F. Snyder on Grid Modernization and Resiliency – Frameworks and Case Study

Aaron F. Snyder

Aaron F. Snyder obtained his BSEE (1993) and MSEE (1997) from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and his Diplôme d’Études Approfondies (1996) and Diplôme de Docteur (1999) from the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble in Grenoble, France. As the Director of Grid Technology Consulting at EnerNex, Aaron works with utility and vendor clients on metering, AMI, Smart Grid, and Grid Modernization projects. In recent years he has been supporting AMI, DA, Microgrid, and ADMS projects in the USA and Middle East, including enterprise architecture, strategy development, requirements, equipment specifications, procurement support, and pre-deployment activities. He is a Board member of the UCA International Users Group, and participates in standards development activities at national and international levels. He is a Senior Member of IEEE.

In this interview, Aaron answers questions from his IEEE Smart Grid webinar, "Grid Modernization and Resiliency - Frameworks and Case Study." View this webinar on-demand on the IEEE SG Resource Center.

This question relates to requests for cost recovery. What problems have you seen around the country in terms of differentiating between traditional T&D upgrades versus grid modernization?

There is still a need to justify the investments. Success has been found by demonstrating a strong, multi-stakeholder rigor to defining the need for the investment, coupled with an internally transparent process to identify and engage with the vendor community proposing solutions. Traditionally a Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) would be undertaken to explicitly identify costs, including capital expenditures (CAPEx) and operation and maintenance (O&M), and anticipated benefits (e.g. labor reductions, improvement in service levels, etc.). While the process may be straightforward, often the metrics that are needed to can be difficult to quantify. For instance, while there are certain tools that can be used to estimate the cost of interruptions1,2, the process is not uniform nor comprehensive and subject to a number of variables.

Are there challenges for municipalities considering implementing microgrids if they are served by an IOU; technical and/or economic?

Yes, both. The technical elements touch on rules/regulations permitting “islanded” operations (though not unique to a municipality) and whether the microgrid has internally visible and controllable elements for the IOU, as well as whether there is a “market” where the microgrid can bid against other grid resources. Economically, microgrids are challenged with competitive investment and operations, and may require soft justification (disaster relief, resiliency, “green”, etc.) to be considered favorable.

Some of the technical issues include ensuring sufficient “Standby” services to support the range of needs of the microgrid that can vary from full load (microgrid resources not operating) to near zero load (microgrid resources supplying the full service to the entity) in a short period of time. Tied to this scenario is the need to properly compensate the load serving entity for the provision of these services.

Are there jurisdictions that are more "favorable” toward microgrids?

Yes. There are several that were required to consider/install microgrids, but many are open to the proposition provided there is an open engagement between the stakeholders. States such as Connecticut stimulated the growth of microgrids through incentives3 for critical facilities. New Jersey similarly has undertaken the establishment of a microgrid program4. The US DOE Office of Electricity is tracking microgrid activity across the US.5

Can you comment on the different focus on distributed architecture for resilience vs centralized architecture (minimum needed for smart grid, lower cost, etc)?

A distributed architecture has more supply and connectivity elements so has both more opportunity to be more resilient as well as more opportunity for (smaller) more failures. Distributed architecture may not be immediately cost competitive but is considered a more resilient system provided the personnel and systems are properly engaged.

Could you briefly comment on Smart Transmission / Resiliency at the Transmission Level?

The bulk grid is mostly “smart” – there are SCADA, automation, phasor measurement units, and mostly pervasive communications, as well as layers of coordination/balancing/control. It is also a “mesh” network, with multiple paths between supply and demand – though with obvious operational constraints, like any other portion of the network.

Do you know of any real life examples where AI is helping to improve resiliency?

Personally, no I don’t. I have heard stories of simulations being used to stage materials, personnel, and equipment to enhance resiliency during storms. I could also state I’ve seen the long convoys of mutual assistance trucks and crews heading toward storm areas. Recently EnerNex hosted a webinar on the use of Augmented Reality that shows how utilities such as Duke Energy are using these tools to improve restoration6. We anticipate that the use of analytics will also make a significant impact on how data sets can be used for diagnostic and predictive system improvements7.

Are EV charging stations and EV infrastructure something that the panelists consider connected to grid modernization?


Looking at Grid Modernization as a development method, one can conclude that previous development methods have failed and are no longer efficient. What are your expectations about how frequently distribution development methods will change in the future?

I disagree with the initial statement. The industry certainly has history, inertia, and can be slow to evolve compared with others; however, it moves in a clear, iterative nature that is concerned with safety, reliability, and quality of service. I don’t see the methods changing in the future for distribution as the complexity, diversity, and customer count (so service equipment count) is a few orders of magnitude higher than for generation and transmission.

Can you comment on the increasing level of sophistication that is required for today's distribution utility to operate effectively, specifically in the area of communications?

Today’s distribution utility is operated by highly-skilled personnel. They evolve with technology deployments, and are able to adapt to any new technology. Two way, field area communications are not new to the industry, just those that are scalable, adaptable and have the capacity for multiple applications are new. There are cases where new technologies has been fully embraced – EPB Chattanooga, Tennessee, for one.

Not only is our infrastructure aging, so is a large portion of our workforce. It is estimated that 25% of the current energy industry workforce will retire in 5 years.8 Further complicating this exodus is the challenge of recruiting new employees. The January 2017 survey highlighted in the US Energy and Employment Report points out that the most significant reasons for hiring difficulty in the utility industry is “Insufficient qualifications, certification and education” (61% of respondents).9

A significant challenge for utilities today is not only the speed with which technology is changing, but also the depth of change. Communications networks are an essential element of most grid modernization efforts; pervasiveness, spectrum allocations, bandwidth, protocols, throughput and cyber/physical protection are rapidly changing aspects that must be considered in modernization efforts. The growth of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIot) and in general the overall Internet of Things (IoT) are challenges that the utility industry will be facing as the convergence of these aspects intersect with the Grid of Things (GoT).


  1. Sullivan, Michael,, Estimating Power System Interruption Cost, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, July 2018
  2. Interruption Cost Estimate Calculator
  5. Microgrid Portfolio of Activities
  6. Webinar: Augmented Reality + The Utility Industry
  7. The Energy Exchange Podcast Episode #4 - Enterprise Analytics: From Vision to Reality
  8. Chapter V, The Electricity Workforce of the 21st Century: Changing Needs and New Opportunities
  9. U.S. Energy and Employment Report (January 2017), pg. 35

To view past interviews, please visit the IEEE Smart Grid Resource Center.