Normann Fischer: Putting Theory Into Practice With Continuing Education

Being the best at what he does is an important goal for Normann Fischer. And what he does is teach power system protection courses for SEL University—that is, when he’s not putting theory into practice as an engineer developing the latest technology in relay-based protection.

“I always had an interest in large machines and how electricity was generated,” Fischer says. That interest was the first step down a path of comprehensive, ongoing education.

Born in Germany and raised in South Africa, Fischer earned a Higher Diploma in Technology in 1988 from Witwatersrand Technikon in Johannesburg, South Africa, and a BSEE from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1993. In 2005, Fischer received his MSEE at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, and is currently working on his Ph.D.

“You have to continue educating yourself and learning new material,” explains Fischer. “This industry is in a continual state of flux, and one has to keep abreast of the latest technology. Otherwise, you get left behind and become obsolete.”

Fischer didn’t restrict his training to the classroom, however. In 1985 he began his career in electrical engineering as a technician at a 3,600 MW fossil-fired power station operated by Eskom, a large national utility in South Africa. There he had a chance to work hands-on with high-voltage apparatus, such as large motors, generators, and high-voltage circuit breakers as well as the equipment used to protect these devices.

“This experience helped me gain a better understanding of both the theory and why things are built the way they are,” says Fischer.

Fischer’s desire to study cutting-edge technology in power systems contributed to the decision to relocate to the United States, where he began a career in 1999 at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) while pursuing his education. “I wanted to learn from some of the best relay designers,” he explains.

Fischer currently works as a principal power engineer at SEL, designing protective relays and analyzing power system faults. This experience provides an advantage when it comes to teaching.

“Protection plays a critical role in the power system,” says Fischer. “It is the art and science of correctly isolating only the faulted piece of network equipment while maintaining the integrity of the remainder of the power system. Therefore, to be on top of this game, one needs to have a deep understanding of how each piece of network equipment functions and what happens if something goes wrong.”

Over the course of his career at SEL, Fischer has taught most of the protection courses offered by SEL University and often presents the initial training material for new transmission products, such as the SEL-421 Protection, Automation, and Control System; SEL-487E Transformer Protection Relay; and SEL-411L Advanced Line Differential Protection, Automation, and Control System. Given the opportunity, he also lectures about power systems and protection at the University of Idaho, with a current course centered on the SEL-400G Generator Relay.

When it comes to the classroom, Fischer values students who demonstrate their willingness to be taught. “I will put in as much effort as the student,” Fischer says. “If the student wants to learn, I will be more than willing to teach them—no matter how long it takes!”

One of the valuable lessons Fischer has learned and tries to pass on to students is: “To really understand how something works, you have to put the theory into practice. You will often find that what seems to work in theory is not always possible in practice.”

When Fischer is not working with power systems, he enjoys woodworking and weightlifting. But education will always be one of his top priorities.

“I like to share the knowledge I have,” Fischer explains. Yet he can only teach what he knows, and the industry is constantly evolving. “For me to stay ahead, I have to learn something new!”

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