Saturday, June 8, 2019

Could the Utility Industry learn from the Boeing 737 Max Disaster?

The other day I read the IEEE article:

How the Boeing 737 Max Disaster Looks to a Software Developer 

Everybody working in the power utility world SHOULD study this paper in detail - and take some time thinking about it and plan and implement consequences ... by some means or other.

We are in danger to end up here:

I have slightly modified a quotation from the above paper:

“Long ago there was a joke that in the future control centers would control themselves, and the only thing in the control room would be an operator and a dog. The operator’s job was to make the customers comfortable that someone was in the control room. The dog’s job was to bite the operator if he tried to touch anything.

This 737 Max problem is a symptom of a trend that is happening in many domains: power production, power delivery, ... even education (from Kindergarten to university).

A senior developer sent me the other day the following link with the subject:

When management thinks 100 trainees can do work of 3 fully qualified senior developers

This statement and clip is very very true - in my training business with more than 4,500 attendees all over I have experienced that in some cases training (regards IEC 61850 and other subjects) had to be paid by the attendees ... using annual vocation! Unbelievable! HR has a big (often negative) impact on the training of the employees as well. The complexity of, e.g., IEC 61850 is usually totally underestimated! ... no need for a training ... read the myriad of papers and study slides ... that is quite often the recommendation of the management and HR.

This understanding is widespread in the utility domain, too ... students are hired (for low wages) to investigate and figure out how new technologies (especially digitalization) could be used ...

I hope that the utility industry will wake up and do a better job than the people at Boeing - but it will cost a lot of money ... shareholders and customers may not want to spent.

The European electric power system is under more stress since January 2019 ... see the following link (first German and second English text):

Switzerland was on the brink of a blackout on May 20, 2019:

On the left side bar you can see that we faced three additional critical situations (two in January and one in April 2019)!

One reason behind all this is the "market driven" power delivery ... more and more relying on software that processes a lot of data to get forecasts and set schedules for the energy flow. Hope that this software is better than ...

We all rely 24/7 on electric power. Have you thought about the possibility of local, regional or total blackouts? How would your life change?

I am nursing my wife here at home. She needs ventilation 24/7. The two ventilators have each a battery good for four hours ... so a blackout of 10 hours would mean that my wife ... For that reason I have several batteries, two emergency generators and some 30 liter gasoline.

I hope that not many "old grey-hairs are sitting in the corner" - BUT walking around and helping the young people to understand why we have the electric power system as it is now - developed in more than 130 years. Senior experts like Gregory Travis (author of the IEEE article) are very rare ... and not well understood ... and maybe too expensive for the bean counters.

The cumulative experience of the "old grey-hairs" (many retired years ago) that has been collected between the 60s and 90s and that are still involved one way or the other should have reasonable influence on young engineers ... in order to keep the power flowing.

In some time down the road we may have 200 trainees on the play field ... and no "old grey-hair" left. In this case the "w" in the German "Energiewende" will drop - means Energie-Ende" ... end of energy.

I am one of these "old grey-hair" engineers (66). Just a few young people are listening to me - I have to stay at home 24/7 ... no travel anymore ... One of the young people listening to me is our grand-daughter (20, finishes her bachelor in EE and IT this year). She is really eager to learn from my experience with MAP, Fieldbus, UCA, IEC 61850, Modbus, ... power systems, renewables, ... As an intern at a distribution company she transfers part of my knowledge to the utility - it is cheaper for the utility than to renew the contract with me ... ;-)

Maybe they will contract with me for the second time - but then it may be too late.

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