Ben Ettlinger of NYPA: 2021 Energy Central Innovation Champion

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Audra Drazga's picture
Vice President of The Power Industry Network, Energy Central

I am the VP of the Energy Central Power Industry Network.  In this role, I help to connect professionals in the power industry through the development and management of topic-specific community...

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  • Apr 27, 2021

This item is part of the Leaders In Innovation - April 2021 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

In early February, Energy Central dispatched our second annual call for nominations for power professionals leading the way in Innovation. We asked our community to nominate leaders who they thought were charging the path for rapid evolution across the sector today-- explicitly looking for those who carry the necessary attitudes to adapt to change while embracing and encouraging new ideas. 

The response was overwhelming, making it challenging for the Energy Central Community Team and our committee of industry thought leaders-- selected from among our Energy Central Network of Experts-- to narrow the list of nominees to the final six Champions of Innovation. 

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I am happy to announce that Ben Ettlinger, Analyst for Emerging Technologies at NYPA, was chosen as one of our final six. Ben was nominated for his vast and varied innovation in data analytics and the discovery of emerging technologies that help keep NYPA's IT and R&D sights forward on the future. 

Please help us celebrate Ben's success by reading some of the insights garnered from an exclusive Innovation Champion Interview between him and Matt Chester, Energy Central's Community Manager. I would also love it if you congratulate him by leaving a message in the comments section at the bottom of this article, or even feel free to share a general question or comment for him on these important topics.

Congratulations Ben!


How Ben got started

I began my IT career with a short stint in the publishing industry, spent a couple of years in banking and insurance until I finally found a more permanent home at NYPA and the utility business. As strange as it may seem, NYPA offered a more stable environment and benefits that matched the demands of a growing family. In addition, the 2 am phones calls from a data center did not fit well into my life style.


What’s Innovation in Utilities mean to Ben?

Innovation is doing something better that the way you did it before. Most people think of innovation today as something AI or ML based but it does not necessarily have to be that. The higher up you are in the ladder of management the higher may be the expectation of what innovation is. An innovative model, a vibration detecting IoT sensor or doing analytics on how to more efficiently run gas turbine chillers may not make a splash in the board room, but they do make a huge difference to the people who are actually operating a facility.


Ben’s Innovation ‘Big Break’

I began my career at NYPA as a data modeler designing data bases for innovative new systems. Having e lived in the data area for all my years at NYPA I had been tagged to manage the data conversion for a billing system conversion, after that I managed NYPA’s SAP Business Warehouse. Having all that experience in the data when the idea of creating an analytics group came up, I was asked to grab the ball and run with it. The biggest thing was creating something new that did not exist before. Especially 6 or 7 years ago when many did not even know how to spell analytics. I also feel a sense of accomplishment in helping break the ice in IT/OT convergence. Before we started the analytics group the only interaction between OT and IT was OT staff calling the help desk or asking for server space. Our award-winning transformer command and control project, began by our R&D group opened the door for cooperation between OT and IT. Our Analytics Group is embedded in IT. Grabbing the opportunity to work on several OT projects that required analytics furthered the cooperation between OT and IT. In fact we know now have regularly scheduled meetings between the OT and IT teams hosted by our Enterprise Architecture Group. It has done wonders for mutual understanding and cooperation.

Another huge accomplishment may be even more than algorithms and models, for the analytics group, is the introduction of visualization to NYPA. The use of the two most popular visualization tools has become ubiquitous across the entire organization. One will nary have a presentation without a data visualization included.



The type of Innovation Culture Ben works in

As a quasi-state agency, not being beholden to shareholders, NYPA has always been open to innovation in generation and transmission and using innovation to promote its core mission of suppling low cost power to State and local agencies and supporting economic development in New York State. So, I would say there has been any resistance to innovation. Leadership at NYPA is driving innovation. Our Agile lab, iSOC, EV, New York Energy Manager, decarbonization, preservation and enhancement of hydropower, and state of the art grid expansion programs are all a testament to NYPA dedication to technology and innovation. Cost is always a factor but maybe less so at NYPA given the propensity to innovation. NYPA’s current 10-year plan, VISION2030, has innovation and breaking away from standards written all over it.


Advice to the future innovators

You do not have to be a data scientist or an engineer to be an innovator. Just knowing your business and being a thinker. At every proverbial turn on the business side and actual turn on the walking the line in a plant, think can we do this better? Do not worry about how. Just come up with the problem. The engineers, the data scientists etc. will solve the problem. Analytics is not about taking solutions and then looking for the problems to solve, as many vendors would have you believe. That is almost guaranteed to fail. Analytics is about finding the questions and solving the problems.



Energy Central thanks Ben Ettlinger for his irreplaceable contributions to our great industry and for truly embodying what it is to be an Innovation Champion. We encourage leaders to share a note of thanks, ask a question, or just your two cents in the comments below. To see the other Energy Central Innovation Champions, see the rest of the Special Issue on Innovation in the Electric Power Industry.

PJ Davis's picture
PJ Davis on Apr 27, 2021

Congrats Ben! Well done!

Rachael Lewis's picture
Rachael Lewis on May 4, 2021

Congratulations Innovation Champ Ben for your work on data analytics and emerging technologies!

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