Tdworld 6789 Ensuring Transmission Grid Stability


Jan. 3, 2018
Dominion Energy persistently demonstrates dominion over its portion of the transmission and distribution realm.

I was looking for a definition of dominion and found this: control or the exercise of control. Doesn’t this sound like the role of our industry as we seek to control the flow of electrons on the grid?

One of my top five utilities in North America is Dominion Energy, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. This utility persistently demonstrates dominion over its portion of the transmission and distribution realm. So, where is its realm?

I didn’t realize just what a juggernaut Dominion Energy is with 16,200 employees and a market capitalization of $52.3 billion. To give you a perspective, it has 26,200 MW of generation, 6600 miles (10,622 km) of transmission and approximately 15,000 miles (24,140 km) of natural gas transmission.

However, to have dominion, you must have the right guys to control your utility and your future. I was sitting in the lobby of the headquarters hotel at an IEEE General Meeting in Denver, Colorado, with Terry Boston, then CEO of PJM. Terry spotted some buddies from Dominion Energy passing through and said, “Rick, you have to meet these guys. They are as sharp as anyone on the planet.” When Terry says, “I have someone I want you to meet,” say yes. You’ll be glad you did.

Terry had spotted Dave Roop, Kyle Thomas and Mark McVey. What started as a short introduction, morphed into an afternoon discourse. I can honestly say I learned more in the lobby learning about the innovative technologies Dominion Energy is applying for grid awareness and control than I did at all the technical sessions I attended combined. But, then again, maybe it’s because I didn’t go to that many sessions.

About that Dominion Energy trio. If I had to describe Dave, he would be the conductor of Dominion Energy’s engineering orchestra. Mark is probably one of the smartest technical/hands-on guys I have ever met. And Kyle, well, he is a really bright guy who is the ultimate multitasker. For example, he is pursuing a PhD, while supervising PhDs, while taking leading roles in developing resiliency models, investigating inverter requirements and working on synchrophaser initiatives.

Soon Matt Gardner joined in. I already knew Matt. He is a PhD and quite brilliant. But what really sets Matt aside is that he can talk to anyone about technology at their level, which means he had to dumb it down a bit for this mechanical engineer. In fact, I ran a column about Matt called “Born to Engineer” in the T&D World November 2014 issue. When you meet Matt, he is a giant, and now I am talking physically;  I’d guess he is six-and-a-half-feet tall, give or take an inch.

I also knew Dave through his activities in IEEE and CIGRE. In January 2015, I wrote an article about him titled “David Roop: A Man for the Times.” He is one of those rare guys in our industry with no ego. He just wants to get things moving, and the best way he can tackle multiple initiatives is through teamwork.

To make a long story longer, Dave invited me to their smart grid lab where they have a lot of cool tools, including dynamic simulators where they can test their system in near real time. Awesomely slick.

After the tour, we sat around a conference table with Dave, Matt and Kyle, and I also reconnected with Mike Lamb. If I were to describe Mike, it would be “The Buck Stops Here.” Mike is soft-spoken but hard-driving, not exactly lamblike.

Having met a lot of Dominion Energy folk over the years, if I were to try to capture the culture at Dominion in a sentence, it would be this: “This company is looking to retain and attract top talent with the best tools and with the most meaningful challenges.”

Of course, our industry is chock-full of meaningful challenges. We already ran a cover story on Dominion Energy’s security initiatives to address escalating threats, including cyber-attacks, physical breaches and extreme weather. And in July 2017, we ran a cover story on Dominion’s mobile substation initiative, which is a part of its ongoing reliability, resiliency and fast restoration program.

Dominion is now looking to provide a higher level of situational awareness to its operators, using PMU data to improve its transmission and distribution network models. Dave made the following statement that resonates with me: “The transmission grid is becoming the variable due to generation impacts from both the transmission and distribution system.”

The delivery system is getting significantly more complex as Dominion is rebuilding its distribution to handle two-way flows. Dominion Energy also has taken an industry-leading position in preparing for geomagnetic disturbances and is looking into the potential effects of electromagnetic pulses. It is also in the planning stages of building out a high-voltage lab so it can test out new and existing products and systems.

But the main thing that strikes me about Dominion Energy harkens back to my roots at Georgia Power. This utility is building a world-class engineering team with the breadth and depth to tackle whatever an industry in flux throws its way. Furthermore, it is doing it with an interdepartmental training program that exposes participants to engineering, system protection, electrical equipment, operations and planning.

Equally as smart, Dominion Energy promotes professional development for its team — such as participating in technical societies, including IEEE and CIGRE — to keep its members sharp and engaged as they work to shape the greater industry, knowing that great ideas come into the company from the outside.

To sum up, dominion just about says it all. ♦

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