Matt Wakefield: Getting Results

Aug. 18, 2011
As the utility industry moves forward with its development of the smart grid, the Electric Power Research Institute is conducting research and coordinating collaborations to help spur that development.

As the utility industry moves forward with its development of the smart grid, the Electric Power Research Institute is conducting research and coordinating collaborations to help spur that development. EPRI’s Senior Program Manager Matt Wakefield is working on leveraging information and communications technologies that can be applied to the smart grid infrastructure. He understands research problems and the associated research results and must convey those results to a wide audience, from engineers and executives to the general public.

Wakefield manages EPRI’s Smart Grid Research including the Smart Grid demonstration projects, applying today’s technology in real-world smart grid applications. He also oversees the IntelliGrid program.

In his quest to communicate the importance of smart grid projects, he is organizing the Transmission and Distribution Track for GridWeek, which will be Sept. 12-15 in Washington, D.C. He will also participate in the closing plenary session on Sept. 15.

The Transmission & Distribution track’s theme is “state of deployment,” and will give a firsthand look at about 30 smart grid projects around the world in various stages of deployment across several domains including consumers, transmission and distribution, and cross-cutting smart grid projects. The track will focus on specific experiences in T&D areas, from distribution intelligence and visibility, voltage reduction and optimization and PMUs.

Sessions in the track include:

  • Session 1: Transmission & Distribution Intelligence & Visibility: This session offers a discussion of questions such as: What is included in the systems, controls, and components that a transmission or distribution system can both report and control? What can be seen? What system conditions can be detected? By combining inputs from a variety of equipment, what additional decision making can become possible to move the automation potential to a higher level?
  • Session 2: CVR/V-Var – Manage & Conserve: In the approach to “Conservation Voltage Reduction” & “Volt/VAR Optimization”, what are the key aspects of the distribution system that must be addressed as a prerequisite? What has to be measured and controlled in order to be managed? This session will offer use cases and experiences CVR/VV projects.
  • Closing Roundtable: The closing roundtable discussion will bring together organizations that are coordinating collaborative Smart Grid Demonstration efforts with multiple stakeholders. This round table will include goals and objectives from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Smart Grid Regional Demonstration, The US Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) and Smart Grid Demonstration Programs (SGDP) funded through the American Recovery and Investment Act and the Electric Power Research Institutes (EPRI) 7-Year International Smart Grid Demonstration Initiative. Along with the objectives of each effort, an overview of result to date will be shared and a call to action for the electric power industry to continue to contribute to results that will help to advance the industry.

“Smart Grid projects associated with electric transmission and distribution systems are not as sexy as some of the more visible things on the consumer side like smart meters,” Wakefield said. “But for improved reliability and a more efficient grid, most of the investments that need to occur are on the transmission and distribution system and the associated back-office enterprise systems that manage all the new data that needs to be processed. The panel sessions in this transmission and distribution track provide real-world examples of technologies and applications with tangible benefits that I think much of the industry isn’t aware of.”

Wakefield pulls from a broad past in conducting research and educating the industry. He started his career in 1986 in the U.S. Navy, serving as a nuclear reactor operator in the submarine fleet and specializing in electronic instrumentation and controls. He then joined Wisconsin Public Service Corp. in the Instrumentation and Control Group of the Kewaunee Nuclear Plant before becoming manager of the Applied Technology group at Integrys Energy Group, the holding company of WPS. At Integrys, he focused on developing and applying information and communication technologies related to real-time energy-related information transfer between control centers, generators, markets, and consumers. This team developed a number of innovative solutions including DENet and eMiner that used emerging open-source software and low-cost embedded hardware while leveraging the public Internet for the communication infrastructure.

“My Navy nuclear training was a very disciplined education approach that taught me the importance of fully understanding operational impacts for any action taken. In addition, it helped me take a learning style to learn individual components and small systems that make up very complex systems and avoid being overwhelmed with trying to learn everything all at once,” Wakefield said.

Following his nuclear career, his work in the deregulated energy industry and with a team to develop an energy management system for industrial customers gave him the opportunity to be on the ground floor of virtually every aspect of a startup company from engineering, sales, marketing, finance and more.

“This was my first experience with outside customers and I quickly learned to not get too bogged down in the technical details of how the system worked, but focus on the results and value it produced,” he said.

Wakefield has always been interested in engineering. When his 6th grade teacher asked him what he wanted to be, he said electrical engineer. His career took him on an unconventional path, but with a solid engineering background. He earned his degree in technology management from the University of Maryland University College while working full time.

Now that he is at EPRI, he said that he enjoys the dynamic environment where utilities all around the world are facing similar, yet different challenges. He works on a wide range of research challenges that he didn’t fully experience while working at an electric utility.

“It is also great to be in an environment where utilities, in large part, don’t compete with one another, so there is a real spirit of cooperation that is very refreshing and works extremely well in EPRI’s collaborative research model,” Wakefield said.

As part of EPRI, he has presented sessions in the past that were related to energy management, integration of distributed energy resources, and industry-wide smart grid collaborative research. He expects to continue similar presentations while expanding into other areas such as enterprise integration and cyber security.

In his presentations, he tries to focus on sharing research results and to communicate in a way that the audience remembers. “In many cases, that comes down to keeping the message concise with likely only one to three main points,” he said. “This is particularly true in formats that are provided as presentations to a broad audience.”

Wakefield enjoys his work and much of his spare time is spent on work-related activities. When he does break away, he spends time with his family or even just watches a good movie. He coached both his son and daughter in youth sports and won the Liberty Mutual Responsible Coaching Award for Youth football for the state of Wisconsin in 2007. He also occasionally does some painting or other arts and crafts but is saving his creative juices for when he retires, which will be a while.

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