Fortnightly Top Innovators 2020


112 Innovators at 18 Organizations

Fortnightly Magazine - November 11 2020

The thirty-four qualifying nominations for this year's Fortnightly Top Innovators include over a hundred innovators. It's a hundred and twelve innovators to be exact, after taking into account that Anil Kondabathini of Hitachi ABB Power Grids was included in two different nominations. 

As in past years for this honor, about a third of the nominations are for an individual innovator. The remaining two-thirds are for a group of innovators. The groups range from two-person teams to large teams with as many as the seventeen innovators at Arizona Public Service, led by Anne Carlton, that quickly created comprehensive coronavirus testing at the Navajo Nation.

The nominated innovators work at sixteen different organizations in our industry. Including ten utilities, four firms that serve utilities, and two research entities. 

The ten utilities? Adams Electric Cooperative, Ameren, Arizona Public Service, Eversource, New York Power Authority, Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association, PPL Electric Utilities, San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and Xcel Energy. Seven of these are investor-owned, two are cooperatives, and one is a public power utility.

The four firms that serve utilities are Hitachi ABB Power Grids, Anterix, Burns & McDonnell, and First Solar. And the two research entities are the Electric Power Research Institute and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

On the following pages, the nominations — whether of individual innovators or teams of them — are ordered alphabetically by the name of their organization. Starting with Adams Electric Cooperative's Steve Rasmussen and ending with Xcel Energy's six-person team of Gray Byers, Chris Hogg, Eileen Lockhart, Jayme Orrock, Tony Mallizzio, and Nathan Svoboda.

Steve Rasmussen, Mike Johnson, Adams Electric Cooperative

Steve and Mike created a new subsidiary of the cooperative to install level II electric car chargers across the service territory around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. They also introduced an My EV capability on the utility’s website to make owning and operating electric vehicles easier, and the utility now offers to customers a credit for electrifying their own transportation.

Kenny Amaral, Jr., Lisa Benavidez, Anne Carlton, Pat Dinkel, Brigette DuFour, Steve Hardy, Paul Jaworski, Denise Jones, Katherine Merems, Jeremia Mueller, Emily Munson, Mike Pryor, Gary Russell, Darroll Williams, Kayla Wolfe, Ric Yancey, Gabe Yazzie, Arizona Public Service

This team, led by Anne Carlton, APS’ manager of environmental support, in six short days created comprehensive coronavirus testing for employees in partnership with Arizona State University. The innovative COVID-19 testing program provided much-needed visibility into the number of positive cases at APS early on when not much was known about the virus. It allowed APS to adjust and enhance its COVID-19 safety protocols in a timely manner. It also provided peace of mind for APS workers and their families, giving them increased confidence that the company’s critical workers were safe at the work site and were not contributing to community spread while serving APS customers. Since its initial start-up, tens of thousands of tests have been given as the process has expanded and become more sophisticated.

Zachary Wassenberg, Burns & McDonnell

This year's Fortnightly Foremost Innovator in wearables, Zachary built a virtual reality capability into hard hats that already has more than nine hundred users and is significantly reducing the number of personnel that are deployed in the field. Since users' hands are free, their work is safer. Since it has advanced technology, they can have video conference calls, data gathering in the field, and can coordinate workflow from multiple locations. See his interview later this issue.

Geoffrey Blanford, Electric Power Research Institute

EPRI's lead modeler in the energy systems and climate analysis group, Geoffrey and colleagues combined the US-REGEN model he developed a few years ago with an energy end-use model and a chemical transport model to evaluate the air quality benefits of electrification in California. He's currently working on a new model to analyze the economics of low-carbon fuels to decarbonize sectors of the economy that are hard to electrify. See his interview later this issue.

Watson Collins, Electric Power Research Institute

Watson, at EPRI after more than two decades at Eversource, and with an unsatiable curiosity about electrifying transportation, is working with Seattle City Light and King County Metro to electrify the entire fleet of approximately two thousand buses. And he's constructing tools to better assess electric vehicle consumption and interconnection costs for public transit and delivery fleets nationally.

Annie Haas, Erik Steeb, Electric Power Research Institute

Annie and Erik, co-leads of EPRI's Incubatenergy Labs Challenge program, are helping member utilities use crowd-sourcing to identify and select innovative proposals. Can proposed projects rapidly demonstrate the viability and scalability of their solution? Can they accelerate deployment? Thus far, more than a hundred and thirty proposals have been submitted across seven shared challenge areas. The eleven participating utilities completed ten demonstrations of proposed projects.

Jessica Fox, Electric Power Research Institute

This year's Fortnightly Foremost Innovator in environmental protection, Jessica established Power-in-Pollinator to build tools that utilities can use to protect biodiversity around utility facilities. She also helped create the documentary film, Power for Pollinators, the Pollinator Electric Power Award (to recognize electric power companies with pollinator-friendly projects), and the first virtual Pollinator Power Party that reached more than a million people in a week.

Maria Guimaraes Biagini, Electric Power Research Institute

An expert in concrete structures — such as containment buildings in nuclear power plants — and their aging and inspection, Maria and her team created a set of solutions for nuclear plants seeking license renewal, including embedding sensors in critical structures. They also developed a crawler that climbs these structures and inspects them. See her interview later this issue.

Katelyn Mazuera, Mary McCarthy, Kyle Svendsen, Eversource

Within two weeks, as the coronavirus crisis came to New England in the spring, Katelyn, Mary, Kyle, and their colleagues on the utility's energy efficiency team rolled out new programs to sustain the momentum for energy efficiency among utility customers. One program, the virtual home energy assistant, enables customers to receive the same expertise as an in-home visit but by using phone or video. Another program allows customers to develop an energy profile online so the team can share personalized recommendations for saving energy.

Gabriel Ortiz Mercado, First Solar

This year's Fortnightly Foremost Innovator in renewables integration, as the leader of a hundred and forty-one megawatt solar farm in a Chilean desert, Gabriel collaborated with the country's grid operator to provide ancillary services from the facility, beyond the provision of electric energy, such as frequency regulation. This is a cutting edge value from solar that was first tried by the California Independent System Operator.

Anil Kondabathini, HyoJong Lee, Reynaldo Nuqui, Jiuping Pan, Hitachi ABB Power Grids

This year's Fortnightly Foremost Innovator in transmission, the team of Anil, HyoJong, Reynaldo, and Jiuping, worked with Bonneville Power Administration, Argonne National Laboratory, University of Illinois, and University of Idaho to create an array of protections for high-voltage direct current systems to detect, alarm, and block malicious cybersecurity attacks on the stability of these critical systems. They developed algorithms to defend against insider attacks that aim to disrupt these systems by spoofing spurious control commands, or altering a device configuration, even if commands and data are compliant with respect to syntax, protocol, and targeted device. See the interview later this issue.

Mehmet Cintuglu, Dmitry Ishchenko, Anil Kondabathini, Hitachi ABB Power Grids

The team of Mehmet, Dmitry, and Anil researched, conceptualized, developed, and demonstrated a comprehensive cyber-physical multi-microgrid system design that incorporates a multiple-layer power system control, communication, and operation architecture. This work reflects that the team expects operational optimization of multiple microgrids to be the next step in microgrid technology evolution.

Tucker Reed, Hitachi ABB Power Grids

Tucker led the launch of innovative asset performance management (APM) software for power transformers. The software, called APM Edge, helps to minimize unscheduled transformer downtime by predicting transformer performance and thus enabling better maintenance decision making.

Parag Upadhyay, Hitachi ABB Power Grids

Parag extensively studied the effect of reverse power flow — as occurs when customers generate with distributed energy systems — on the grid's transformers and the life of these assets. He has shared the results broadly including with renewable developers so they can consider any limitations of operation.

Barry Mather, Emma Raszmann, Martha Symko-Davies, Juan Torres, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Barry, Emma, Martha, and Juan, a team at the energy systems integration facility at this Energy Department lab, are working with an industry advisory board of seven utilities to validate the performance of private LTE telecommunications networks. Among the questions being addressed, do these networks enhance the resilience of electric distribution systems including microgrids with a high penetration of distributed energy resources?

Neal Addison, Kedaar Raman, New York Power Authority

Neal and Kedaar are representatives of the digital utility workers, DUW. The DUW program is un-tethering the utility's workforce with advanced digital tools, including digital logbooks, digital worker docs, iPhones for all with extended Wi-Fi at all of the utility's sites, project and construction management software, 3D tools, and wearables.

Jeff Wadsworth, Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association

This year's Fortnightly Foremost Innovator in microgrids, under Jeff's leadership, Poudre Valley is working with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the U.S. Department of Energy to construct a microgrid to maintain reliability in the remote and mountainous Red Feathers Lake community that heretofore has been supplied by a single transmission line that is vulnerable to outages. The project, to install twenty kilowatt solar photovoltaic, battery energy storage, and islanding technology, will be completed by year end.

Jeff Kaye, Bill Lang, Audrey Marich, Dan Prongay, Jesse Varela, PPL Electric Utilities

Jeff, Bill, Audrey, Dan, and Jesse are into three dimensions, literally. This five-person team is using three-dimensional modelling to create digital twins of its utility's fleet of substations by 2022. This augmented reality can help streamline field maintenance and allow virtual project planning to reduce execution risk and improve safety around energized substation equipment.

Paul Toub, Matt Wallace, PPL Electric Utilities

This year's Fortnightly Foremost Innovator in distributed generation, Paul and Matt developed a collar, installed at a customer's meter, that enables rapid connection of distributed resources like residential solar. The device helps their utility manage the two-way flow of power, improving safety and reliability, reducing costs, and promoting sustainable generation.

Marco Aceituno, Alex Ho, Jeff Julien, Southern California Edison

Marco, Alex, and Jeff developed the Spare Tire application to maintain situational awareness of their utility's electric grid — of system overloads, outage contingencies, and power system instability — in the unlikely event that the energy management system becomes impaired. They intentionally made Spare Tire cloud-based, mobile-friendly, and independent of the company's computer network to make it sustainable under the broadest range of adverse scenarios.

Erica Bowman, Dan Hopper, Alexey Tronkin, Ayman Samaan, Southern California Edison

The Pathway 2045 team of Erica, Dan, Alexey, and Ayman completed a complicated technical grid analysis across a twenty-five year planning period that laid the foundation for a robust long-term carbon dioxide emissions reduction strategy that is expected to be the most feasible, affordable, and equitable for the utility's customers. The strategy integrates the analysis of the higher-voltage transmission system and the lower-voltage distribution system.

Alyssa Grigoryan, Kathy Hidalgo, Sunanda Singh, Lucero Vargas, Southern California Edison

One of this year's Fortnightly Foremost Innovators in drones, Kathy, Alyssa, Sunanda, and Lucero developed a comprehensive aerial inspection program including drones along with helicopters to spot grid vulnerabilities — such as deteriorating crossarms, hardware issues, environmental concerns — to mitigate wildfire risks. Even in remote and dangerous locations, the program is providing large-scale top-down visualization leveraging machine learning to filter out blurry photos. See their interview later this issue.

Faton Bacaj, Michael Colburn, Dave Geier, Christian Henderson, Stephen Johnston, San Diego Gas and Electric

One of this year's Fortnightly Foremost Innovators in reliability and resilience, Faton, Michael, Dave, Christian, and Stephen, the non-conductive balloon team, came up with a new material for balloons that doesn't conduct electricity like Mylar and so it doesn't cause outages of overhead lines, which is common and disruptive in southern California and across the country. They've been working closely with a major balloon manufacturer to create prototypes and ultimately bring it to market. See their interview later this issue.

Jonathan Brownstein, Jamal Cherradi, Alejandro Komai, Matthew Mendoza, Adrienne Mok, Eric Wang, Southern California Edison

One of this year's Fortnightly Foremost Innovatosr in reliability and resilience, Jonathan, Jamal, Alejandro, Matthew, Adrienne, and Eric put together an accurate wildfire risk model that inputs a massive amount of weather and other real-time data and continuously predicts critical and high-probability ignitions that require the utility's immediate attention. They've significantly improved the model's accuracy by pouring more granular data into it, including on the location and spans of electrical conductors and then integrating force mechanics equations and taking into account the long-term effect of wind on conductors.

Gray Byers, Chris Hogg, Eileen Lockhart, Jayme Orrock, Tony Mallizzio, Nathan Svoboda, Xcel Energy

One of this year's Fortnightly Foremost Innovators in drones, the team of Gray, Chris, Eileen, Jayme, Tony, and Nathan pioneered autonomous aerial inspection of remote and distant wind farm turbines using advanced sensors and simulation. To enable the push-button approach to inspections, they use software with realistic physics and visuals, like a video game, that helps train the drones for the real world. The training helped show regulators that drone autonomy is sustainable and safe.