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The 'Golden Age' of the Electric Grid Buildout

Oct. 25, 2023
The successful transformation of the electric utility industry requires the best efforts of all involved.
“Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.” Dorothy to Toto in the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy’s sudden realization that her world had changed is how many of us feel as we look at the unprecedented transformation of the electric grid currently underway. And this transformation shows no sign of slowing down.

The successful transformation of the electric utility industry requires the best efforts of all involved. So, friends and colleagues please STOP for a moment, look up from your computer, pause that email you’re composing and put down your mouse. I’m asking you to take a deep breath, look around and appreciate that you are a key player in what has become a most dynamic industry. Planning, designing, building, operating, and maintaining the electrical grid has never been more exciting or challenging than it is right now!

Awareness of the electrical grid, recognized as the greatest machine on earth, is no longer relegated to industry trade magazines and obscure conferences. Conversations about our industry, the electrical grid, are now often found on the front page of newspapers, on the nightly national news and in presidential and congressional agendas. And yes, these conversations are even occurring across the backyard fence with your neighbor. There has never been a better time than now to share our passion and knowledge with those around us.

Many of you have committed a large portion of your career advancing the art and science of transmission, substation, and distribution engineering and construction. And as you look around, I think you’ll have to agree that you are living in the ‘golden age of engineering’ of the electrical grid. Today is a perfect day to “stop and smell the roses,” appreciate how far we’ve come and energize yourself for the exciting challenges of tomorrow.

Winds of Change

The tailwinds of decarbonization, electrification, and climate change are creating projects of every type imaginable. Projects for EHV bulk transmission, HVDC, wind and solar interconnections, microgrids, battery storage, system hardening, wildfire mitigation, electrical lifeline and more, on a daily basis, are presenting an abundance of opportunity. Thankfully we have a large cadre of dedicated professionals turning these opportunities into reality for the benefit of us all.  

A prime example of the energy, enthusiasm and deep technical knowledge of our industry was on full display last October at the Electrical Transmission & Substation Structures (ETS) Conference. This ‘must-attend’ event had over 1500 professionals in attendance and showcased our talent and expertise thru a pre-conference workshop, 35 presentations and a dozen posters.

Those attending were able to reconnect in-person with industry experts and colleagues while taking advantage of the educational opportunities in the technical sessions and exhibit hall. In addition, this conference gave more than one hundred authors the opportunity to share their most exciting and relevant efforts that they have been working on since the 2018 conference. If you missed it, here is your chance to catch up on some of the exciting projects shared by your colleagues. This supplement has five articles written from some of the best papers presented at the 2022 ETS Conference.

Share Your Experience

In September 2025 the Electrical Transmission & Substation Structures Conference returns and will provide another opportunity for our most talented to share their experiences with some of the coolest and most important projects on the planet.

Although two years away, the ETS steering committee, supported by ASCE is already hard at work. So please mark your calendars for September 14-18, 2025. It is not too early to start thinking about how you might be able to share projects that highlight collaboration, innovation, or overcoming challenges. Over the next six months be on the lookout for the call for abstracts/papers. We look forward to everyone’s contribution.

If you need additional evidence that we are in a ‘golden age’, there is groundbreaking work underway to develop a loading standard for overhead power lines (Minimum Design Loads for Structures Supporting Overhead Power Lines & Wired Telecommunications Infrastructure). This much needed standard, years in the making, is being built on the foundation of 4 editions of Manual of Practice 74: Guidelines for Electrical Transmission Line Structural Loading.

When completed, this standard will reduce or eliminate our reliance on the NESC for determining structural loading and incorporate a data-centric approach, bringing consistency to all areas of the country. Approximately 35 of your colleagues and industry experts are meeting on a nearly continuous basis to complete this standard. They are deserving of your support, appreciation, and thanks.

Now as I circle back to the beginning, do yourself a favor, “stop and smell the roses!” In doing so, reflect on your strengths and experiences and look for opportunities to apply those to some of the biggest challenges our industry has ever faced. You are living in a ‘golden age,’ and we need your talents to address the challenges of our ever more complex and essential electric grid. Good Luck to us all!

Ronald Carrington is an executive vice president and executive board chair at POWER Engineers, Inc.

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