February 22, 2021 | Updated: June 21, 2022
It is important that our energy grids remain updated with the most recent technology or else citizens will be impacted by inconvenient and more frequent power interruptions. Most electric transmission and distribution lines were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy, and many power grids are at full capacity.
IEEE Senior Member Jill S. Tietjen, also a member of the IEEE Power and Energy Society (PES), has also found that the electric utility workforce is reaching retirement eligibility. “There is an age and experience gap,” says Tietjen. “The institutional knowledge transfer issues are recognized and steps are being taken to address them. However, a huge amount of knowledge has the potential to walk out the door.”
With the energy industry now at a crossroads on how to improve our outdated infrastructure, we turn to the next generation of leaders, such as IEEE PES Member and PES Chapters Student Activities Committee Chair Thiago Ribeiro de Alencar, who envisions more technologically advanced, long-term and sustainable solutions for the future of our energy grids.
IEEE: Do you feel there is a lot of weight on your shoulders to improve the energy grid?
Thiago Ribeiro de Alencar: Yes. However, I believe that energy grid challenges bring new opportunities to innovation, new entrepreneurs and interdisciplinary collaboration between different engineering fields. This kind of challenge has motivated me to keep improving my background and brainstorm with several engineering fields to find new interdisciplinary solutions to energy grid challenges.
IEEE: Why did you choose to become an energy engineer?
TRA: The interdisciplinarity opportunities as part of the energy engineering career have motivated me to follow the energy field since I was 14 years old. I started to follow the energy field with parallel technician courses (1. maintenance electrician; 2. instrumentation and process control technician) in high school. A few years later, I completed three undergraduate degrees — aerospace engineering, management engineering and a bachelor in science and technology. However, I kept in contact with interdisciplinary projects under aerospace, energy and management engineering since my first year in university. Later, I completed a Master of Science and PhD in Energy with a focus on AI (artificial intelligence) applied in the optimization of hydropower plant operation.
IEEE: Do you feel like there is important institutional knowledge to learn from current energy engineers?
TRA: Yes. The energy sector has changed in past years with new technologies and challenges. The current energy engineers have grown in a different environment more connected by computers with collaborative work without borders. So, the current energy engineers are very well prepared to face future energy grid challenges with interdisciplinary teams focused on finding new solutions and implementing new technologies like smart grid, big data and artificial intelligence techniques to solve energy grid challenges.
IEEE: What challenges do you see us overcoming in our aging infrastructure? How do you imagine we fix them?
TRA: I believe that smart grid, big data and artificial intelligence will have a key point to drive improvement of the energy infrastructure in the next few years. Energy is an interdisciplinary field and I believe that we will make faster improvements in aging infrastructure with interdisciplinary collaboration between different engineering fields in the coming years.
The IEEE Power and Energy Society has over 470 PES student chapters and more than 10,000 PES students throughout the world; as well as more than 9,000 PES young professionals members who graduated in the last 15 years that help connect the next generation of energy engineers. Find out more here.