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Energy Central Power Perspectives: Getting to Know Your Expert Interview Series: John Benson, Expert in the Clean Power Community

Posted to Energy Central in the Clean Power Professionals Group

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The energy transition to allow our mix of power sources to come from cleaner and less carbon-emissive sources is a massive lift, one that takes great minds across technology, markets, and policy coming together to solve one of the most important puzzles of our lifetimes. Luckily for Energy Central, one of those expert minds with a deep and valued experience that can help to educate the rest of us in clean power is a part of our network of experts, and his name is John Benson.

If you’ve spent any amount of time on Energy Central, chances are high that you recognize John from his frequent and regular research papers into different topics critical to the energy industry, stretching from electric vehicles to grid resilience to zero emissions generation and everything in between. John is registered as an expert of our Clean Power Group, and his insights are undoubtedly a highlight of the community.

But if you’ve read some of John’s work and found yourself wondering what his background is and how he got to know so much about so many different topics, you’re in luck: he’s the latest expert to share with me for Energy Central’s “Getting to Know Your Experts” interview series:

Matt Chester: Thanks so much for taking the time to share more about you and your insights with the Energy Central Community. You are quite an active voice in the community, but people may not know too much about your background. Can you let our readers know what your experience is in the utility industry and what it is you do to stay current with the energy issues of the day?

John Benson: I spent the first five years of my career (after graduating from Texas Tech with a BSEE) in the Nuclear Industry, but I saw that this sector was clearly in decline. Then I moved to a company that was then called Moore Systems. Moore was a division of a large Swiss Company: Landis & Gyr, and later changed its name to Landis & Gyr Systems, then TELEGYR  Systems, and now Power TG (a Siemens business).  This company implemented SCADA, automatic generation control and energy management systems for medium-sized electric utilities, large industrial facilities, and (later) a few commercial facilities. Also, later it became involved with automatic meter reading systems.

The good thing about this experience is that our systems touched just about all of the utilities’ infrastructure and large commercial and industrial facilities’ electric generation and distribution systems. The really large industrials had quite a bit of their own generation which ranged from gas turbines to hydro. We also implemented systems for early renewable energy generation, like lots of hydro, pumped storage and the PG&E Geysers geothermal system (now owned by Calpine).

 

MC: Your career in the energy industry has been long and with lots of different types of experiences. What would you say was a lesson you learned early on in your career about the energy sector that has stayed relevant wherever you or the industry went? What about a lesson you learned that had to evolve as the field itself changed?

JB: The Biggest lesson is this: if we encountered something new, be prepared to research it and understand it. Since for most of my career I managed proposal development, we needed to teach ourselves about new technologies very quickly and understand what was required to monitor and control them.

 

MC: As you look at the industry as it is today, what do you think are the areas where leaders in utilities should be paying the most attention? And what area is maybe getting overhyped or having an undue amount of time and resource poured into it?

JB: Climate change is clearly the highest risk for utilities and other major industries, and not just on the West Coast. Although PG&E may end up being the poster child for utilities that ignore the results of climate change, all coastal utilities in the East and Gulf are very susceptible to coastal flooding.  Flooding from rivers is occurring in the middle of the country, and any arid area in the West is susceptible to massive wildfires.

Other effects of climate change include changes in loads to accommodate renewables, battery energy storage systems, and mobility and industrial electrification. I feel it will probably be two or three decades before all our country wakes up to the real risk that climate change poses, and by then many disastrous changes will already be in our climate’s pipeline.

Overhyped: probably the latest trend in cyber technologies. Although many of these are important for web-based businesses, utilities should rely on proven experience for a given important function (like customer support and automated voice response (AVR)) rather than going for the bleeding edge of technology. By the way, PG&E has excellent websites to support its customer service and an excellent AVR system, but trying to roll something out quickly to support the public safety power shutoffs was a bridge too far. The main problem was that their site initially had issues with volume.

MC: Energy Central regulars will know you from your high-value posts and your detailed papers researching various topics into the industry. What value do you look to bring to your colleagues and peers through spending such time on these great resources? What are your main areas of expertise that you most enjoy writing on?

JB: What is the opposite of “fake news”? In my mind, it is true understanding. This is what I hope to bring to readers, at least within my domains of knowledge. That is why I use many references and try to find respected references.

Right now, I’m focusing on what is happening with PG&E and the other California IOUs. My next two posts will focus on this – many changes in my state, I fear.

The areas I most understand and thus spend a lot of time writing on include climate change; most areas of electric utility technology; most commercial and industrial energy systems and energy use; mobility and industrial electrification; most types of renewables; microgrids and similar advanced energy systems; and California’s electric utility infrastructure, organization, regulation, and control.

 

MC: As one of our trusted experts at Energy Central, you’ve used the platform as a means to share your insights fairly actively. What do you think is the value in the Energy Central community and the ability to bring together utility professionals from different areas? What keeps you coming back to Energy Central?

JB: Energy will be one of our major challenges in the next few decades. The Energy Industry has given me a wonderful and exciting career. My posts on Energy Central are payback. Also, for individuals that need to understand a new technology or other subjects that I know, I hope that my posts can help.

 


 

Allow me to thank John once again for sharing his perspective with the Energy Central community via this interview and in his frequent and highly valuable posts as a Clean Power Community expert. I hope you now keep a special lookout for his future posts, as they are some of the highlights of the community.

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

Discussions

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Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Nov 22, 2019

John,  Thanks for sharing all of your insights over the past few years!  I for one have learned a lot from reading your papers and insights.  I look forward your continued involvement with Energy Central.  

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