Getting to Know Your Experts: Doug Houseman, Expert in the Grid Professionals Community - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester 187886
Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Nov 12, 2019

Energy Central’s community is the most valuable aspect of this platform, and in particular the impressive list of experts that are counted among our community members must really be seen to be believed. As a part of that effort to demonstrate just how much expertise and experience is floating around among Energy Central users and contributors, we bring you the next iteration of our “Getting to Know  Your Experts” interview series with Doug Houseman, one of our more visible and engaged experts.

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Doug is a Utility Modernization Lead at Burns & McDonnell, and he also graciously provides the Energy Central community with his efforts as an expert of both the Grid Professionals Group and the Digital Utility Group. As a key member of our network of experts, Doug brings great knowledge and insight to Energy Central. Keep reading to hear some of his background and what he’s learned in his years working in energy. That way, next time you have a question you can find him on Energy Central, or next time he comments on your posts you’ll know the wealth of experience that backs up his perspective:

Matt Chester: I really appreciate you taking the time to share some of your background and insights with the community, Doug. For those in our community who don’t know you, can you start by giving a quick background of who you are and the path you took in your utility career?

Doug Houseman: My career has been long and wandering, from learning about distribution construction and maintenance before I was legally old enough to a Navy career where electricity became central to my time in Washington DC and working in Navy R&D to spending time working on electrical issues on ships, bases and soon to be bases.

My career then shifted to SCADA, Communications and real-time systems to a consulting position that took me to more than 100 countries solving issues. I then spent eight wonderful years at EnerNex working with some of the best in the industry, which led to working with NIST, EEI, EPRI, DOE, USDA, DHS, NARUC and many others while tangling with some of the messy problems.

Finally, now to 1898 & Co., a business, technology and security solutions consultancy, part of Burns & McDonnell. I got to deal over my career with policy, regulatory issues, interconnections, wholesale and retail market formation, Operational Technology, Greenfield utility design, transactive energy, electric vehicles, storage, and more than 500 million meters. I think I have done every job in the industry except Customer Service Representative (and people who know me know why that is true).


MC: During your impressive career in the energy space, you’ve been at the leading edge in advocating for technologies such as smart grid, grid modernization, cybersecurity, etc. When looking towards future energy technologies, what signs to you look for that an innovation will become something important to latch onto early rather than something that fizzles out as noise?  

DH: First is physics: is it a fundamental breakthrough that is well supported by technical papers and repeat experiments?

Second is need: does it do something fundamentally different where there is a real need?

Third is economics: can it be produced (based on materials, complexity, quality issues, manufacturing, software processes, safety costs, and environmental impact) for a price that provides value to the majority of people/firms?

Finally, is it simple enough to use that stakeholders will adopt it without regulation forcing adoption?

I did my first solar install for an off-grid community in the 1970s. I put in geothermal in the 1980s. As the chair of the IEEE PES Intelligent Grid and Emerging Technology (iGET) committee, I get to see and think about more technology than most.

I suspect that when society looks in the history book in 40 years, the lithium decade will be highlighted, but that cars will be electric and run on liquid electrolytes, not lithium-ion batteries.


MC: In your bio you note you’ve worked in utilities including water, gas, and electricity at different points in your career. What makes electric utilities and the needs of the grid unique compared with the others? And on the other hand, are there any specific lessons learned from your days with water utilities that you think the electric utilities should do a better job to embrace?  

DH: Unlike Telecom — where a network busy signal is a regular item— water, electricity and gas can’t do that. Water industries face more issues than overhead electric because there are few sensors to provide the location of a broken pipe, maps are typically more out of date, and “cookie” cards are still common. Most water companies are smaller and lack automation and computerization in many areas. On the other hand, the best can run the whole system at night with one or two operators, collecting water to the tap since many plants run with lights off. Gas companies have constraints too. Even though gas is compressible, there are limits to how much gas can be delivered.

All three developed ways to run with autonomous equipment that was mute because communications systems were so expensive. Electricity has been in the lead to put in Operational Technology, but water has been in the lead at putting in larger mains when they renew a portion of the system which allows for growth. Electricity tends to put in just enough, with little room for expansion of service. Electric vehicles will lead to a major rebuild of the electric system and, like gas in New York, some customers may be denied connection when electric vehicles become a mainstream choice, until the infrastructure is upgraded.

All three should be looking to the future, as should regulators. Otherwise, we will be in trouble before the end of the decade.

MC: The utility industry is going through immense transformations and in many respects faces crossroads. Do you have more optimism or concern for how the next decade or two of that transformation will go?

DH: It depends on how it will go. If regulators and utilities agree to end “first come, first serve” and other items that date from the time of experimentation and focus on engineering in solutions, and then offer people the chance to provide those solutions at market prices, then it will go well and the transition should be orderly. If instead net-metering, unlimited interconnection sizes, and first come, first serve are maintained, we will put only 30-40% of what the grid can support into service, and the rest will be blocked because of the hodge-podge of pieces that are owned by third parties and the unaffordable contracts under which they operate.

Remember: to meet the Green New Deal’s goals by 2030, we need to produce 320 acres of photovoltaics every hour from January 2021 to 2030. That is just the tip of the iceberg of the change and no one is doing the math and physics of the whole solution. One piece that no one wants to talk about is the amount of steel we will need to build wind turbine towers. Tens of millions of jobs will disappear, and tens of millions of jobs will appear, and no one is thinking about how to make that transition either.

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?

DH: The feedback that is provided to the items I post. Every time I post something, I learn new things and people ask me questions that make me rethink some of the assumptions I have. More than 50 years after I started into the industry, Energy Central offers me a fresh look at the industry.

MC: Is there anything else you wanted to share that we didn’t cover in the previous questions?

DH: Young engineers need to grab this bundle of issues by the tail and give it a good swing. If they don’t, we will never get to a reasonable, engineered and affordable future. The “haves” will have and the rest of us may not. We only have one planet, we need to take good care of it, and the best way to do that is to be efficient with our resources. Only great engineering can do that. Regulators need to make room for that great engineering. To get there, top universities need to re-open power engineering programs they closed when microchips were where everyone thought the money was. The truth is this: microchips don’t run without electricity! 

Please join me in thanking Doug for sharing his insights in this interview and for his continual contributions to the Energy Central community as an expert. Those of you who are regular 

Energy Central’s community is the most valuable aspect of this platform, and in particular the impressive list of experts that are counted among our community members must really be seen to be believed. As a part of that effort to demonstrate just how much expertise and experience is floating around among Energy Central users and contributors, we bring you the next iteration of our “Getting to Know  Your Experts” interview series with Doug Houseman, one of our more visible and engaged experts.


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Victoria Hudson's picture
Victoria Hudson on Nov 12, 2019

Such an incredibly fascinating, visionary person. I wished this interview had been bit a bit longer - to hear more about his different experiences, but also to get the answer to why he never became a customer service representative. He's done every job in the ...

industry except Customer Service Representative (and people who know me know why that is true).

Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Nov 13, 2019

Simple, I don't have the personallity or the patients that CSR's need. They are saints in the best meaning of the word. They listen to people's excuses, problems and needs, never getting angry, never a harsh word and never hanging up. 

If you have worked with me you know my personallity. 

CSR's are special people. The good ones worth their wieght in gold!

Victoria Hudson's picture
Victoria Hudson on Nov 20, 2019

Thanks so much, Doug! Wow, I never expected a direct reply, so please forgive the delayed response. Yes. Dealing with the "public" can be challenging... CSR"s, indeed, "are special people". Again, though, the interview shined! So great to meet you. 

Jason Price's picture
Jason Price on Nov 13, 2019

Great interview Doug and impressed with your deep and broad perspective. You've seen it all in the energy space. You describe the future with an eye on the engineering skill set but at 1890 & Co you expand outside of just engineering. From your current role are you seeing a workforce gap/shortage beyond engineering professionals and could you describe what other skill sets are in demand or will be? 

Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Nov 14, 2019

I think having an engineering basis is the biggest need. If from there one wants to become an MBA or a project manager or...that's good and needed. But the issue I keep running into is people who are trying to work on the grid or make policy for the grid that don't understand physics or how the grid actually works. 

My favorite who say "well we made the wires go away for telephones, doing for electricity should be easier and cheaper."

Then I ask "how much did you pay for your phone and how much do you pay a month?" and the answer is 5 or 6 times what their parents paid for a land line. 

And if I get a busy signal from a phone, no big deal, with electricity if I gave your furnace a busy signal, it would be a big deal. 

We need financal analysts, data scientists, CSR's and lots more skill sets, but an understanding of physics is the basis of a good future. 

Victoria Hudson's picture
Victoria Hudson on Nov 20, 2019

This sounds frightening, Doug. It forbodes some sort of devastating catastrophe - as if it's just waiting to happen. Policy makers. Grid workers. Not understanding how the grid actually works but making decisions and choices about it - that impact consumers. Really made me think.

 the issue I keep running into is people who are trying to work on the grid or make policy for the grid that don't understand physics or how the grid actually works. 

Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Nov 21, 2019

Just got off the phone with someone in the Michigan Government who made some public statements that frightened me. 

After an hour of careful conversation I got the to understand that the National Electric Code is about safety and the rules are there to keep all kinds of people safe. 

I did not realize how little about safety or electricity the schools teach today. In 20 years if we are successful at electrifying the US, the vast majority of energy is going to come out of a wall socket and no one is teaching common safety or how the system works or why it is needed. A lot more thinking to do about what to do about the lack of education. 

Len Gross's picture
Len Gross on Nov 14, 2019

I was in the fortunate position to work alongside Doug at Hydro One in Canada on the development of their AMI system, which, at the time was one of the largest deployments in North America. There were no engineering reference models for smart grid then, as such we had to design from the ground up. Doug's leadership on Grid architecture and his pragmatic approach to design problems were invaluable and allowed for a successful implementation. I 100% agree that we need to make room in this industry for young engineers, new business models require fresh thinking. Doug is truly a visionary in the area of utilities and smart grid; keep up the good work sir! Hope to see you at Distributec.

Lenny Gross


Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Nov 14, 2019

Thank you Lenny for your kind words. I will see you there!

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Nov 18, 2019

Thanks very much for your insight Doug.

From where you´re sitting, would you please comment on whether the US electricity grid can successfully be made to juggle the supplies of renewables in a way that will minimize or eliminate the need for gas generated power to meet peak loads? What has to be done to make this a reality, if it can be done, as more renewables come on line and more coal generation disappears?


Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Nov 18, 2019

Done right it can, unfortunately right now it is not being done right. 

1) engineer in the renewables, figure out where they best fit on the grid and the size they should be.

2) upgrade distribution to handle PV and EV loads, as well as the 53 categories of electrification that are not cars.

3) build large quantities of pumped storage - not river dams, but 2 basin pumped storage locations

4) Put a full court press on energy efficiency, building codes, and demand response, including frequency based demand response programs

5) Build excess renewables to get the country thru winter months, and be allowed to idle them in the spring once storage is full.

6) stop making "winner: and losser: policy - take all the subsidies out and let renewables and storage compete on merits, that includes things like net metering and exemptions from primary frequency response. 

7) Mobilize the workforce and society as was done in World War II. The job is huge and no one is really doing the math to understand how big. Bring the manufacturing back on shore in North America, otherwise you will have a huge negative pull from the unions to "stop the non-sense", because their jobs will disappear.

8) be realistic with the public about what it will take and what it will cost. Most, if not all people will pay more out of their pocket. Most of the benefits go to the environment, and health, but most will not realize it for 20 or more years.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Nov 21, 2019

Many thanks for your reply Doug. Sounds sensible to me.  Your last points about mobilising the workforce and being realistic with the public are, indeed, crucial.

I just hope the right leadership in government and industry is found in order to make it happen. 

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