Welcome Abby Mayer: New Expert in the Load Management Community - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]
- Nov 23, 2020 1:31 pm GMT
Pursuing a career in utilities, and specifically within the world of load management, can be inspired in many different ways. It may come with a natural inclination towards the engineering and sciences associated with the field, an interest in the data side of the field, or even in the ability to combine creative problem solving with practical solutions. I had the chance recently to chat with Abby Mayer, Load Forecasting Analyst at Seminole Electric Cooperative Inc. and new member of Energy Central’s Network of Experts within our Load Management Group, and learn how she took a pathway of environmental sciences and studies that ended up leading her to the Load Management pathway.
Eager to hear more and share her background and expertise with the Energy Central Community, I sat down with Abby as a part of the official Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’ I hope you’ll be as inspired as I was by Abby’s outlook for the load management opportunities laying ahead and the creative thinking that’s going on behind emerging strategies:
Matt Chester: This interview series is known by our community as being one of the best ways to get to know our experts and understand the value they’re bringing into the community by joining the Network of Experts. So with that in mind, can you please give a quick overview of your background? How did you get started in utilities, what experience do you bring to the table, and what is your current role?
Abby Mayer: As a part of my undergrad in conservation and zoology and I ended up taking an environmental economics course, which really directed where my career ended up going. The professor in my environmental economics course ultimately started my Master’s program in applied economics, which was called Resource and Demand Analysis. It was a professional Master’s with an emphasis in learning basic econometrics, statistics, and analytical skills within the framework of the energy industry. I didn’t know much about the energy industry going into the program, but learned about the energy industry structure, regulations and policies. I also learned about various pricing structures, demand response, forecasting, and survey design with sampling
One of the benefits of the program was I got to work with Navigant Consulting for my final practicum project. Two of my classmates and I analyzed a demand response program for Navigant. We received feedback from consultants during our analysis and presented our final report to Navigant as well as the rest of our cohort. It was a great opportunity to apply our knowledge, work with real data and get valuable feedback from consultants that have worked on similar analysis.
After I graduated, I did a short research project with the Wisconsin Public Utility Institute, who hired me to research battery technology within the energy industry. I presented my findings at a battery conference, for which I was the opening presenter. My presentation served to broadly introduce battery technology by covering topics such as cost, types, and implementation challenges.
In 2017, I found a great opportunity at Seminole Electric, which is a generation and transmission cooperative in Florida that serves nine Member territories. I am currently serving as a load forecasting analyst II and get to apply the skills I learned from my Master’s program on a daily basis and continue to develop new skills and learn more about the industry. My role as a load forecast analyst includes working on long-term forecasts, which are used for planning and budgeting purposes, and short-term forecasts, which are used by marketing and system operations for intra-day and day-ahead planning. Beyond the forecasts, I served our Members by helping with any additional requests that require analytics. Other projects I have worked on for our Members include population studies, load factor analyses, delivery point optimization for different generation assets, and weather analyses. Being a part of the load forecasting team has been a great experience and I look forward to our continued efforts to improve our forecasts and analytics.
MC: Your involvement in the utility sector and with load management specifically seems to have come from a place of environmental conservation concern. Can you talk about how one led to the other and how these environmental concerns continue to drive the work you’re doing?
AM: Yes, I moved from conservation into the energy field. In hindsight, the energy field seems like the obvious choice based on my interests: analytics, policy, environmental concerns, and conservation. With new technologies, climate change concerns and changing societal perspective, there is an increasing push for the energy industry to address its adverse impact on the environment. Additionally, with technological advancements comes more data and data is becoming a more important resource every year. I see myself as someone with the skills to help evaluate new technologies and extract value from data, as effectively as possible, to make better decisions for utilities and the environment. In my current role as a forecaster, I strive to make accurate and useful forecasts which is an important part in effectively planning future generation. For the short-term forecast, this helps to effectively use current resources and for long-term forecasts, to avoid over building generation.
MC: You currently find yourself working on load forecasting for an electric cooperative—do you have any insights into how load forecasting and related work gets done at a coop as opposed to utilities that are structured in different ways? Do you have any unique opportunities or challenges because of this positioning?
AM: In Florida, investor owned utilities (IOUs) are regulated by the public service commission and thus have more requirements and scrutiny for their forecasts, particularly in the instance of a rate case. As such, the utilities we have talked to, have different metrics they have to achieve for errors related to seasonal peaks for example. At cooperatives, we don’t tend to come under a lot of scrutiny due to our work being within the wholesale power contract we have with our Members. Nonetheless, we do come under scrutiny and have to go to the Public Service Commission when we want to build a powerplant.
One advantage of being a cooperative is that we deal with areas that are rural and thereby have slower adoption of technologies such as solar, battery, and electric vehicles. This allows us to look to the larger utilities that are further along the adoption curve for insight into forecasting techniques and data gathering. I helped to develop Seminole’s solar forecast, and we reached out to the larger IOUs who shared their approach. This facilitated the process as they provided great insight into the challenges they encountered and success they had with different techniques and data sources.
While having rural territory helps in one instance, it does also present a challenge in that rural areas aren’t always captured in data. A lot of the data we buy is generalized to the metropolitan area which does not always represent Seminole’s territory. We work with our data and analyze the different economic driver variables to find the ones that best work for our territories.
MC: Presumably, the world of load forecasting and load management is going to take on a more prominent role in utilities as demand grows, the desire to reduce total emissions increases, and more. Can you give us your perspective on what you think the next 5-10 years in this field might look like in terms of developments, new priorities, and innovative focuses?
AM: I think 5-10 years down the road, there will be a bigger push for data management, and analytics. Data is becoming more and more important and I think data management is going to be vital. I see the need for this now, but some utilities still struggle to see the value in some of their data and I think acceptance of the value will take time. Figuring out what data is going to be easiest to clean and implement into models will be critical, which heavily relies on data analytics and management. I also think there will be a push for continued development and testing of new techniques. Some models and techniques that work today aren’t going to perform as well when there is more disruptive technology on the grid. To be proactive in addresses new challenges to modeling, innovation will be key.
MC: As you get more involved with the Energy Central community, what do you think is the value you’ll be able to bring to the community? And what aspects of importance are you getting out of being a member?
AM: I enjoyed reading other experts’ interviews on energy central and a lot of participants have 10, 20 or 30 years of experience. I find value in reading about their experiences and being able to learn about challenges that they had encountered and overcome in their careers. It’s great to have experts share how they have adapted to changes within the industry.
I am in the beginning of my career but I think my perspective is important because the industry is changing. Many utilities are seeing an aging work force and attracting and retaining younger talent is a new challenge. I know my skills are in demand and could transfer to a number of other industries but I find the energy industry rewarding. I am a part of an industry with a long legacy and a future that’s going to look a lot different. I think I bring that younger perspective.
Thanks so much to Abby Mayer for participating in this conversation and for bringing value as a Load Management Expert for Energy Central. Please welcome her with open arms when you see her around the community and be sure to ask her perspective, comment on her contributions, and make her feel welcome.
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