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ISGT 2020: Q&A with Saifur Rahman

Dec. 18, 2019
Early-bird registration ends on Feb. 5 for the 11th Innovative Smart Grid Technologies North America conference sponsored by IEEE PES. Learn why you should attend.

The IEEE ISGT NA 2020 conference, from Feb. 17-20, 2020, in Washington, D.C., will focus on "Enabling Intelligent and Resilient Communities.

In the following Q&A, Saifur Rahman, president of IEEE PES, shares why power industry professionals should consider attending this event and why he's been involved with the IEEE since 1975. 

Q: Describe your educational background and experience. 

A: I have a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and have been a professor at Virginia Tech since 1979.  In addition to my academic work, I have worked as a research engineer at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, Duke Energy in North Carolina and the Tokyo Electric Power Company in Japan. I have served as a consultant to the United Nations Development Program, the US Agency for International Development, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Q:  How did you get interested in your particular field of work? 

A: My Ph.D. was on nuclear power plant refueling algorithm development. From there I moved into wind and solar energy integration to the electric power grid, which let me transition into smart grid research. I and my team at Virginia Tech built the first Web site in 2010 highlighting smart grid deployments in the U.S. This was known as the Smart Grid Information Clearinghouse Web site, which was widely used by both academics and practitioners.

Q:  What is a typical day like for you? 

A: As the president of the IEEE Power & Energy Society, I need to respond to a lot of emails from engineers, researchers and academics from all over the world. I usually spend the morning responding to these emails. Mid-mornings are usually spent working with my Ph.D. students. Afternoons are spent on administrative work for my research institute, meeting visitors and preparing talks I give at many places in the U.S. and abroad. When I travel--which is a lot--I spend most of the day in meetings, making presentations and visiting labs.

Q: How did you get involved with IEEE PES and IGST? How are you helping with the IGST 2020 event? 

A: I became IEEE PES student member in 1975 in New York. From a student member, I gradually became a member, senior member, IEEE Fellow and finally the IEEE Life Fellow in 2015. I attended the first ISGT at NIST near DC in 2010. Since this area is close to my own research on the smart grid, I found the panels and discussions at ISGT interesting. I ended up as the general chair for ISGT 2013, ISGT 2014 and ISGT 2015 - all in DC. We were honored to have Dr. Ernie Moniz, the then U.S. Secretary of Energy, as the chief guest for ISGT 2014. I am on the steering committee for ISGT 2020 and participate in discussions on speaker selection, program development, etc.

Q: Why do you think it's important for cybersecurity and power industry professionals to attend this conference in February in Washington D.C.? 

A: As more and more automation and remote access begin to take place in the power industry, cybersecurity becomes an essential element for the secure operation of the power system. Cybersecurity domain experts can learn from power industry professionals what are the challenges in the industry that they can help address and develop solutions for. On the other hand, the ISGT 2020 conference provides a platform for power engineers to interact with cybersecurity experts and learn about how to deploy cybersecurity solutions in their line of work.

Q: Which sessions are you most looking forward to attending and why? 

A: Panels on cybersecurity, blockchain and smart grid deployment because these align well with my current area of research.

Q: What is your favorite part of attending the IGST conferences? 

A: The plenary session and special panel sessions where experts discuss their field experience.

Q: This is the 11th year for the event. What sets this conference apart from others in the industry, and how has it changed over the years?  

A: Since the beginning of ISGT in 2010, I have attended all of the annual conferences except one, which was held in 2016 in Minnesota. This conference focuses on practical applications of smart grid and related technologies where experts talk about their field experience which is unique in the industry. It also brings in many DOE and national labs people sharing knowledge about various government-supported research programs. It has now become more interactive due to the large percentage of panels in the program.

Q: What do you consider as some of the most significant innovations in the smart grid industry? What are the most significant challenges and opportunities with grid modernization? 

A: Most significant advances include secure communication technologies, which help to deploy large scale automation without much concern about a data breach. The biggest challenge for grid modernization is a linkage between the high- voltage transmission line and the local distribution line, and the smooth operation of equipment in between. Opportunities include the development of new equipment and algorithms to make the components and systems work smoothly from the local transformer to the supply source.

Q: What do you see in the future for the smart grid? 

A: To me, the smart grid is not the power grid. It is the distribution network, which connects the end-users who are the ultimate beneficiaries of the smart grid. So the future of the smart grid is providing services to the end-users in localities where power will be provided from many sources including roof-top solar and customer-owned storage devices, including the electric vehicles. Also, there must be opportunities to trade in electricity among home and/or business owners.

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