Roderick Conwell, Director, Transmission & Distribution Engineering, AES Indiana
For the past 30 years, I have had the privilege, as an engineer for AES Indiana,of watching the energy sector change and transform. It’s exciting to be a part of an industry that powers–and empowers businesses, communities, and people. While the U.S. electric system and electric utilities have served us well for more than 100 years, today’s energy transformation is changing rapidly, and electric utilities must work to ensure it continues to serve us for years to come.
In my opinion, one of the major challenges impacting Transmission and Distribution is attracting a younger generation and educating them about the diversity within the industry. We must think about different ways to recruit talent and to be strategic in our people planning. We are more than “poles and wires” – there’s solar, wind turbines, cybersecurity, batteries and more. If the younger generation understands the opportunities that existwithin electric utilities, it can open them up to being more receptive at looking to our industry for careers.
"Utilities are now using new technologies in every step of the process to produce and deliver electricity to customers."
I believe one of the trends we are experiencing right now is how quickly the energy industry is speeding along a digital transformation. Utilities are now using new technologies in every step of the process to produce and deliver electricity to customers. Even our line workers will be operating in a more digital environment. With self-healing grids, we’ll have to rethink how we troubleshoot problems and make repairs.It’s exciting to think how we can use technology to be more efficient in the field as a benefit to our crew members and our customers. As a utility, we also need to continue to understand how the new technologies are impacting our customers. Customers will have more choicesand access tonew technologies that will help themplan, consume, conserve and even generateelectricity, according to their own priorities andneeds. We need to be prepared.
One of the most exciting – and our largest effort to date at AES Indiana – is an investment of $1.2 billion in the modernization of the electric grid. The seven-year plan is called revAMP andincludes upgrades to establish distribution network self-healing capabilities, replace and improve aging infrastructure, and implement other grid resiliency capabilities. This is an incredible effort that will help us better serve the needs of our community and customers.
AES Indiana is also a part of a pilot program that allows us to monitor our utility poles. Wooden utility poles can have a lifespan of 25-50 years, depending on the climate and active hazards, includingvehicle accidents, tampering and insect infestation. This pilot program, BeaconSMRTGrid, allows us to mount a device on our utility poles to monitor their structural integrity.Weare monitoring poles in areas that have been impacted by tree canopy and ahigh number of incidents. This monitoring system will help us better understand the physical stateof a pole and direct crews to a specific location for repairs and restoration or pro-actively assess a potential problem to help limit damage to the distribution system or property. We are currently developing a proof of concept. I appreciate the forward thinking of AES Indiana that allows us to be more innovative and strategic.
I must admit though, through all the trends, challenges, and changes, the one thing that keeps me up at night is – and always will be safety. At AES Indiana, safety is at the core of everything we do. We always identify potential risks to our people, contractors, customers, partners and communities, and measure success by how safely we conduct our work together while contributing to a greener energy future.
With all that said, one of the most exciting things for me is to be a part of a company that is leading the world’s transition to greener, smarter energy, right here in Indianapolis. At AES Indiana, we’re accelerating the future, together.
Rebecca Delaney, P.E., Associate Director and Operations Leader for Sustainable Engineering Studio, and Luke Leung P.E., ASHRAE Fellow, LEED Fellow, BEMP, P Eng, Director of Sustainable Engineering Studio, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill