Welcome Tony Sleva: New Expert in the Transmission Professionals Community - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]
- Apr 15, 2021 11:47 am GMT
You could argue that in the world of modernizing the utility industry that transmission has taken somewhat of a backseat (at least in terms of headlines and mainstream attention) compared with generation. People have wanted to hear about shiny solar panels and wind turbines, to debate the merits of nuclear power, and to brag about the shift away from fossil fuels. But recently, it seems like the transmission system has started to take more of the center stage:
- The good : the Biden Administration has looked to the grid as a key area of focus for its massive proposed infrastructure investments
- The bad: extreme conditions like hurricanes, wildfires, and freezes have brought reliability and resilience of transmission infrastructure to the forefront
- The unknown: smart technologies, cybersecurity, and the future of grid modernization has opened up lots of questions about the future of transmission systems
To navigate these waters where transmission will be hotly debated, referenced, and more, it’s important to consistently check in with the experts who are working on these issues every day and driving the progress in the T&D sector whether the limelight is on it or not. One of those expert voices is Tony Sleva, President of Prescient Transmission Systems. Tony has also recently been added to the Energy Central Network of Experts to provide guidance, advice, and insights to the platform as a whole on what’s happening in the industry, specifically for the Transmission Professionals Community.
To kick off that relationship, Tony has agreed to join me for a session of the Energy Central Power Perspectives ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series’:
Matt Chester: To start off, we love doing these interviews with members who have recently joined our Network of Experts because it allows our readers to learn more about you and why it is we identified you as an expert. With that said, can you give a quick introduction of yourself and your role in the utility sector? How did you first get involved in energy and what path did you go on to get to your current role at Prescient Transmission Systems and as an established expert in our industry?
Tony Sleva: When I reflect on my career, I give thanks for everyone who contributed. I began working for Pennsylvania Power & Light Company in 1971, when I joined a small staff that included industry experts, dedicated mentors, and practical contributors. Our motto was “Know your job, do your best, think long term.”
During my 29 years at PPL, I worked in system operations, substation engineering, and nuclear power plant design, construction, and operations. In 2000, I joined Altran, an architect engineering company located in New Jersey, as an engineering manager. At this juncture, my work activities were the same, but different. I quickly learned that although every utility purchases similar components from the same manufacturers, the expectation is that every component will be installed to each utility’s specifications.
While working for Altran, I also had the opportunity to work with their forensic laboratory in Boston and on the Chunnel project in England. These opportunities expanded my horizons to include concepts, such as material properties, in my skill sets.
As I approached retirement age, I found that the utility industry needed industry professionals to focus on updating the power grid to the next generation, just as the communications industry has updated its infrastructure and technology, from 1G to the current 5G. My goal was to use my skills and expertise to reduce the electric utility industry’s contribution to climate change, to prevent wide area blackouts, and to change the way that electricity is bought and sold.
Recognizing that achieving my goal of industry-wide innovation would require commitment and vision, I, along with my business associate Jerry Wolfe, decided to create Prescient Transmission Systems, an electric utility consulting firm. At Prescient, we focus on concepts that greatly enhance the production, storage, transmission, and utilization of electric energy. Recently, I acquired a patent for solenoid series reactors, which enable voltage recovery with 8 milliseconds of a three phase fault. I also developed a new wildfire risk assessment methodology and reached out to governmental agencies to introduce new renewable energy concepts.
Throughout my career, I always sought to recognize issues within the industry and create forward-thinking solutions. I believe my hands-on work activities and progressive mindset have been key to my successful career.
MC: With some a long-lasting career in utilities, you’ve been in the thick of things back when utilities were solely reliant upon central power plants and the extension transmission needed to bring power where it was needed, and resisting any change to that model, to the recent years where distributed generation, smart grids, and a more adaptable utility industry has really changed how transmission is handled. Was that evolution something you ever could have imagined? And what was the turning point that made you realize that these changes were really going to be happening and the transmission professionals had to start to adjust?
TS: It seems that I have been involved with renewable energy for more than 50 years. My introduction to solar cells occurred in 1967, as part of a high school science class. We manufactured solar cells that powered a transistor radio. In the mid 1990’s, Dorney Park installed a wind turbine generator at their amusement park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where my family and I lived at the time. This was my introduction to production scale, renewable energy, and the concepts behind IEEE Standard 1547. These experiences helped me understand the importance of renewables and the need for the electric utility industry to be adaptable to change.
Since then, one of my goals has been to encourage industry professionals to learn the basics while thinking long term. In my opinion, for utility professionals to fully adjust to the updated grid model and future consumer needs, they must provide consumers with better explanations of key topics. For example, when discussing monthly electric bills, they need to differentiate between energy costs and infrastructure costs. When discussing energy storage, they need to differentiate between transformer MVA and energy storage MVA. When discussing solar energy, they need to explain that the infrastructure they install is based on the maximum fifteen minute energy demand during any time of the year. These basic concepts can be confusing to consumers.
MC: You’ve had the benefit of working with many different utilities on projects during your career, including Con Edison, PacifiCorp, PEPCO, and others. When you first start working with a new utility on a given project, what do you first look for to determine how that project is going to go? Do they tend to have different priorities, leadership styles, or other characteristics that make the experience unique, or are they more similar than they are different?
TS: Most electric utilities that I have worked with are focused on Key Performance Indicators that maintain their status quo. The most effective utilities have managers that understand the business, the process, and the need to instill communication awareness in their staff. The most effective utilities have methods to rank projects based on maintenance history, load growth, and reliability so that the highest ranked project is worked first.
When meeting with utilities, key indicators are the number of people invited to meetings, their pre-meeting arrangements, and their post-meeting expectations. I have found that a smaller meeting size, around five people, leads to a more productive meeting. Utilities that prepare an agenda and assign action items with completion dates are committed to getting the project done.
MC: Looking forward, what upcoming developments, programs, technologies or other type of progress are you most looking forward to in the coming years of the power industry? What has you particularly excited or optimistic?
TS: Right now, I feel like a kid in a candy shop. There are so many opportunities. Here’s the top ten things I’m excited about for the next generation electric energy system:
- Transmission lines will be converted to electric powerways with energy flow control.
- Distribution lines will be converted to electric serviceways with tight voltage control.
- Substations will be converted to electric warehouses with stored energy modules.
- FERC will establish an Advisory Committee on Electric Energy that focuses on “what if” – as Randall Munroe would.
- NERC will establish an Operating Committee on Electric Energy that focuses on communicating incidents throughout the industry on a daily basis.
- High voltage transformer and circuit breaker bushings will be replaced with plug jack connectors.
- Maintenance and repair activities will be guided by limiting conditions of operations (24 hour, 7 day, and 30 day activity limits).
- Customers will receive monthly bills based on the cost of infrastructure as well as the cost of energy.
- Customers will have the option to automatically reduce power consumption when energy costs are too high.
- Electric utilities will create fellowship opportunities where innovative staff members will propose next generation concepts and receive funding to take their innovation from concept to implementation.
These ideas would greatly improve the electric utility industry for utilities, consumers, and the planet. For example, updating transmission lines to electric powerways will benefit utilities by allowing more power to be sent over existing lines, therefore eliminating the need to build new infrastructure. Consumers will benefit because energy shortfalls, and the accompanying price hikes or outages, will be almost non-existent. Electric powerways will also help build grid resilience and efficiently transfer renewable energy from location to location, so renewables can become primary energy sources, rather than fossil fuels.
Each new development has benefits for utilities, consumers, and the planet. We are at a crossroads in our global approach to climate change; the electric utility industry has so many opportunities to make a positive impact on the global climate, while still maintaining a sustainable income and reliable power for consumers.
MC: Can you share what it is about Energy Central that compelled you to get involved and integrated with the community? And what should community members look forward to you bringing to the table as our newest expert?
TS: Throughout my career I have been involved in IEEE activities, nationally, with IEEE technical societies, and, locally, with IEEE Section activities. During the Covid-19 pandemic, opportunities to interact my peers have been limited.
Recognizing that many others have similar experiences, I decided I needed to do more to give back to my profession and my community.
MC: I’ll give you the last word here. What final message would you like to share with our community for them to better get to know you?
TS: I owe my success to others. When I was about to graduate from high school, my high school math teacher, Phoebe Tomko, convinced my parents that I should enroll at Penn State University. When I began working as an engineer, my manager, Ray Fernandez, enrolled me in the complete suite of Power Technology Courses offered by PTI. When I began working for an engineering firm, my group vice president, Tom Foley, reignited my need to innovate. It seems that at every crossroad, someone was there to guide me.
I try to pass my knowledge to the next generation of utility professionals by presenting continuing education sessions for the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s School of Continuing Education, Electrical Engineering department, every spring and fall.
Thanks again to Tony Sleva for joining our Expert Network and sharing his time and experience with the community. As you see Tonyengaging across Energy Central, be sure to share any comments or questions with him to tap into his wealth of knowledge!
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