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David Roop: A Man for the Times

Dec. 24, 2014
Cool in a crisis and genuine in demeanor, Dave Roop focuses on the task at hand and on the team he entrusts to get the job done.  

Dave Roop is the man for the times. He handpicks teams to tackle critical tasks in what might be the transmission and distribution industry’s most turbulent era experienced in the past half-century. Roop sees the very fabric of the T&D enterprise being challenged by issues utilities have never faced before.

As director of electric transmission operations at Dominion Virginia Power, Roop is collaborating to build a T&D system that is more robust, more flexible, more responsive and more proactive so his utility can meet an increasingly chaotic future. Under his leadership, Dominion Virginia Power is building a platform to accept increased levels of renewable energy, distributed resources and energy storage, not to mention increased customer demands to chart its own destiny, whether pushing for microgrids or seeking to sell or trade power with one another. Roop realizes extraordinary times require extraordinary flexibility in a robust grid.

Few utilities are willing or able to invest heavily in advanced system simulation tools. Not so for Dominion Virginia Power, which sports an active Real-Time Digital Simulator laboratory.

Roop is a rare character in that he also relishes tackling the worst situations the field can throw at him. His background is quite varied and tells a lot about the man. Roop has firsthand experience in all aspects of the T&D business, including stints performing core T&D duties in engineering, operations and customer care.

“Dave has that innate ability to keep his head in a crisis,” said Kevin Curtis, director of planning and strategic initiatives at Dominion Virginia Power. “The time I have seen him the most serious and the most controlled was when we were in a substation at about 4 a.m. doing some switching.”

During that procedure, an energized lead came loose from a switch that an electrician was switching with a stick and hit the electrician on the shoulder, giving him an electrical shock. “Dave immediately cleared everyone out of the way and made sure that the wire was out of the way so he could make contact with the electrician,” recalled Curtis.

Roop checked the electrician’s pulse and breathing, and he was about to start CPR when, fortunately, the electrician starting breathing. “Through the whole thing, Dave never hesitated, never flinched and never missed a beat,” said Curtis. “Dave also made a point to stay in touch with the electrician as he was recovering.”

Other situations also require bold action, whether to remedy the immediate situation or to keep it from happening again.

“My first encounter with Dave was the night we were attempting to reclaim a control house that had been damaged in an electrical fire three months earlier,” said George E. Wood, manager of electric transmission and distribution services for Dominion Virginia Power. “The grid had to be brought back up that night, and it was pouring rain, inside and out.” The control house had a humidity of 100%, and the protection control voltages were bleeding all over the panels. “Dave entered the building and asked me how things were going,” recalled Wood. “You can’t print my reply, but I said something to the effect of ‘not too good.’”

Roop immediately assessed the situation and asked where the dehumidifiers were. When told there were none, he immediately ordered four of them and demanded they be on site in 20 minutes. “He also said that we will build a new control house and abandon this one as soon as possible,” stated Wood. “I was stunned. There was no ‘I’ll go back to headquarters and order a study’ or ‘I’ll check the budget and create a five-year plan.’ I had finally found a man in charge. That was in 2001, and I have enjoyed every day since then that I have worked with Dave.”

While Roop has spent much of his career responding to disasters, he also was responsible for causing one. In the early 1990s, Roop was hosting a Chamber of Commerce dinner for George Allen, the then-governor-elect of Virginia (who later became a U.S. senator). Just prior to Allen’s speech, the waitstaff brought out dessert, which, according to Roop, looked like a chocolate bag. “I’d never seen one before, but it had mousse in it,” Roop recalled. Everyone was looking at it, and no one knew how to cut it open.

Roop, ever the trailblazer, decided to be the first. “I had a fork and cracked it,” he said. “The chocolate sprayed across the table and hit the governor-elect’s tuxedo below his bow tie, just as he was getting ready to speak.” No harm done, though. “We all laughed, and he was a good sport about it.”

Dave Roop sponsored the development of Dominion’s smart grid lab and proudly stands in front of the company’s real-time digital simulator.

New Industry Solutions

Dave absolutely loves responding to the bigger challenges the T&D industry has a habit of throwing at utilities. “Dave is focused on innovation and being on the leading edge of technology,” stated Terry Boston, CEO of PJM Interconnection. “And, to execute his strategies, Dave has probably recruited more Ph.D.s and electrical engineers for Dominion than any other utility I know,” added Boston. “For example, he set up the first Real-Time Digital Simulator lab using the phasor measurement unit data that we collectively worked on getting in place following the Aug. 14, 2003, blackout.”

According to Boston, Roop also was the first one to use phasor measurement unit data to measure the stress on a transformer during a geomagnetic storm, by measuring the power consumption on the transformer from the low side to the high side.

Boston was at one of the analytics committee meetings of the National Academy of Sciences. “I was discussing how expensive and time consuming it would be to reroute a lot of our power system simulators and analytics tools to take advantage of supercomputers,” he recalled. “And I found out that Dave’s group had already bought into parallel processing and was using supercomputers at Dominion to do the analytics.”

Dave Roop is always up for an adventure, including going up in a bucket with a transmission lineman to bond on energized 500-kV line for barehand training.
Dave Roop and Terry Boston, CEO of PJM Interconnection, make a formidable duo. Both gentlemen received the industry’s highest technical honor, the IEEE Leadership in Power Award.

A People Person

While Roop is a consummate technical person, what impresses most people about him even more is his interest in people. “Dave is unique in his combination of technical expertise and the way he can relate to people,” said Dave Crowl, who took over for Roop as district manager in Charlottesville, Virginia, several years ago. According to Crowl, Roop took a week to show him around the entire western division. “What really impressed me was when we met up with field crew members. He not only knew all about the work they were doing, but he also knew everything about them and their families.”

In 2005, Dave Roop and his wife, Bonnie, took to the “streets” of Venice in a gondola with their children, Krista and David. With his kids now grown, Dave is investing in the next-generation work family.

Roop is quite a family man himself, and he and his wife, Bonnie, are quite close to their kids, now young adults. The children also seem to have inherited their dad’s technical genes. His daughter, Krista, teaches high school math and is married to a mechanical engineer. His son, David, has degrees in physics and electrical engineering, and his company, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, currently has him working in Japan.

Alma Mater Loyalty

With an electrical engineering degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Roop maintains connections with his alma mater. For instance, Roop worked to create a graduate-level power engineering fellowship at Virginia Tech and ensured both undergraduate and graduate students had access to first-rate facilities by working with the industry to obtain relaying and automation equipment. With Roop’s support, Dominion engineers now have access to distance learning classes from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Roop also supports other universities active in the power-delivery space. For example, Roop was influential in getting the U.S. Department of Energy and National Science Foundation to fund the Engineering Research Center at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. At this facility, researchers evaluate ultra-wide-area resilient electric energy transmission networks. Roop even went so far as to authorize the first industry-to-academic residence program, sending his experienced engineers to work side by side with center faculty and students on problems now challenging the industry.

Roop is committed to building a culture of technical excellence. This culture — fostered by hiring, developing and unleashing passionate engineers and technologists to build the utility of the future — resulted in him receiving the prestigious 2014 Leadership in Power Award, the highest award offered by the IEEE Power & Energy Society.

He also connects with thought leaders throughout academia and industry. Roop seems to have an aversion to saying no. He has served or is presently serving in institutions including IEEE, CIGRE, INPO, DARPA, NERC, NASPI and NFPA. He expects engineers and managers under him to serve industry, as well. His charges are active in industry activities with institutions including IEEE, IEC and CIGRE.

Dave Roop protégé Matt Gardner leads a discussion with a team of engineering interns and contractors. Each summer and throughout the year, Dominion relies on partnerships with regional universities to tackle technical challenges and to develop the next generation of technical expertise.

Investing in the Next Generation

Roop works hard to bring in young, energetic, talented people into the organization. “Dave took the lead for developing a very good training program for young engineers to make sure they would be exposed to many facets of the business,” noted Bob McGuire, director of electric transmission project development and execution for Dominion Virginia Power.

Roop brought Matt Gardner, a Ph.D. and professional engineer, into Dominion Technical Solutions to help tackle some of the biggest issues the industry faces. “Dave loves a challenge,” stated Gardner. “When someone says something can’t be done, it really starts his wheels turning, and he won’t rest until it’s not only done, but done elegantly.”

Gardner shared that Roop is creating a pool of engineers with advanced degrees. For example, he has arranged for a master’s fellowship at Virginia Tech, such that, for the last four years, there has been funding for students to go the extra year or two to get their master’s degrees. And advanced degrees go beyond master’s degrees to include Ph.D. degrees.

“In my own case, I was working at Virginia Tech, wrapping up my Ph.D.,” recalled Gardner. “I remember being in my office one day and hearing this unique laugh in the hallway. It was Dave. Six months later, with additional inspiration from Kevin Curtis, I was privileged to be on the Dominion team. Since I came here, Dave has hired at least another dozen engineers with master’s degrees and Ph.D.s.

“Dave has always encouraged us to be involved in the industry — to publish and present our findings, and do whatever else we can to support the industry,” Gardner added. “For example, he actively encourages us to be involved in IEEE. He understands the concept that a rising tide raises all ships.”

What truly drives Roop is the opportunity to serve, and that itch can be scratched well at his utility because, in Roop’s own words, “Dominion is a very ethical company that really cares for its customers.”

Dave Roop protégé Matt Gardner leads a discussion with a team of engineering interns and contractors. Each summer and throughout the year, Dominion relies on partnerships with regional universities to tackle technical challenges and to develop the next generation of technical expertise.

The Engineer’s Engineer

According to Curtis, Roop would rather tinker with his computer and phone when he’s having technical problems rather than call Dominion’s help line. “I have seen him on a number of occasions trying to reimage his phone on his laptop,” recalled Curtis. “I remind him of negative experiences he has had in the past trying to do things like this.” Undaunted, though, Roop acknowledges to Curtis that he is hardheaded and would rather do things like this himself. So, he continues on with his efforts as any true, geeky engineer would.

When meeting Roop, it is easy to see he is quite the visionary. He is leading his utility to address issues that many utilities have yet to grasp. Roop has the knowledge and experience to envision where electric transmission needs to be, the willingness to seek input from associates and peers to build consensus, and the organizational skills to move the organization to meet the vision. Roop is a man for the times.

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