Gene Wolf
IEEE PES T&D Conference and Expo exhibit floor.

Attending IEEE PES T&D Expo as a Utility Engineer

March 21, 2024
You never know where attending a PES Expo will lead you.

Last month’s issue of T&D World featured the upcoming May IEEE PES T&D Conference & Exposition being held at the Anaheim Convention Center. I have been to many PES T&D Expos, but it all started in Anaheim many years ago. Friends had told me about the PES Expo and I decided that if possible I’d go. Getting permission wasn’t easy. There was never enough money in the budget for training or travel. I asked for approval, but was told no. It turned out, however, there was a loophole, Corporate loved positive publicity.

I had been the project engineer on an HVDC (high-voltage direct current) back-to-back converter station project my company had built. I found out there was going to be a panel session discussing the latest HVDC projects and they were calling for papers to be submitted by prospective panelists. I sent in an abstract and the paper was accepted. I was an accepted panelist and the next thing I knew I was in Anaheim.

Unexpected Results

Thinking back, I must have really wanted to go. I had no experience writing technical papers, and I had never been on a stage making a presentation in front of hundreds of people. I was way out of my comfort zone, but it was worth the effort and as a learning experience, it was beyond expectations.

Funny, Disneyland was a short distance down the street, but for a utility engineer like me, the exhibits on that exposition floor surpassed anything at Disneyland. There was so much happening it was hard to decide what to explore.

If you have ever gone to a PES Expo you know what I mean. Where else can you see and interact with the latest power grid tech-toys? Where else can you have coffee with experts and pickup tips to improve your skills? Where else can you informally trade tricks to perform more efficiently in your profession? More importantly, it’s an opportunity to make first contact with new colleagues and open doors to lifelong friendships, which is invaluable. I know it because it happen to me many times.

Presenting that paper at that panel session introduced me to some of the world’s leading HVDC experts who were also on the panel. We first met at the author’s breakfast the morning of the session. Many of us decided we wanted to meet again for dinner to discuss HVDC technology. That introduced me to another important feature of attending the PES conference: networking. After all, the Expo is a gathering place for the industry’s top professionals.

By the end of the conference, I had made some friends and been invited to join the HVDC subcommittee and several of its working groups. They wanted me to help write standards, guidelines, and recommended practices, but luckily I didn’t realize that at the time. These publications define the equipment of the power delivery system — talk about looking behind the curtain. When I got back to my office, once again I asked for permission to join these groups, but the answer was still no.

As luck would have it our converter station developed a problem that impacted its reliability. It was a real brain-twister and had everyone’s attention, including the manufacturer. Several HVDC utility engineers I had met in Anaheim said to call them if I ever had an interesting problem. I called and true to their word, they helped, and the problem was fixed. This proved the value of being connected to the HVDC community and I received approval to join the working groups and attend general PES meetings.

From a 30-plus-year perspective, I started out my PES career as a confused working group volunteer and ended up the chairman of the T&D Committee. There were many other offices and work in between. I’d like to go into more details, but there isn’t space for that. If there was, I could tell you about the quirky guy I met at a PES general meeting in NYC. He was standing right behind me in the line for discount Broadway tickets in Times Square. 

He told me he was the editor-in-chief for Transmission & Distribution, the predecessor of T&D World, and his name was Rick Bush, hmmm. It was a strange day and again I wish I had space to tell the full story. Years later he’s one of my best friends and I’m an engineer/journalist with the monthly column you’re reading. You never know where attending a PES Expo will lead you! 


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