Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Welcome Varun Perumalla of California ISO, New Expert in the Grid Professionals Community- [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Grid Professionals Group
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Matt Chester's picture
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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  • Feb 3, 2022

The reliability and resilience of the grid are paramount to utility providers, grid operators, and end customers, and there really isn't any compromise to be had there. Along with this top priority placed on the grid performance, though, are continued and rising concerns about external events challenging that reliance: wildfires, winter storms, fuel supplies, equipment performance, demand outpacing supply, and more. 

The leaders in the utility sector are looking to keep abreast of these issues and minimize incidents, though events like Winter Storm Uri last winter keep grid reliability top of mind for all stakeholders. To ensure the Energy Central Community is kept up to date with the latest developments and insights they can and should use to help their organizations play their role as fully as possible, we continue to put a focus on our Grid Professional Network of Experts.

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To that end, today we're welcoming Varun Perumalla of California ISO as a part of that network of experts. Varun is the lead architect of power systems & market technology at CAISO, and he brings with him a wealth of knowledge from his many years serving in the energy sector. And Varun is eager to share his insights from that time with our community, starting with this entry in the Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’

If you have any thoughts or questions for Varun, be sure to let him know in the comments below!

Profile photo of Varun Perumalla

Matt Chester: To kick things off at the basics and help our community get to know you better, can you share your background in the utility industry? How did you first get involved, what do you do today, and how did your journey take you from the beginning to the present day?

Varun Perumalla: I have been extremely passionate about electrical engineering since my childhood, which motivated him to pursue a Master’s in electrical engineering (power systems) from the University of Oklahoma and a Master’s in business administration (MBA) from the University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign. I strive for building the “grid of the future” using the latest technologies and power engineering. Over the course of my career, I have designed the recloser control at Beckwith Electric and enhanced the economic dispatch and unit commitment algorithm at Power Costs Inc. I have been at California ISO (CAISO) since 2013 and some of the career highlights include designing the data integration for energy imbalance market (EIM) at California ISO, which saved $1.7 billion to the ratepayers in the western United States, and leading and designing the enterprise model management system (EMMS) that maintain the electric grid information for entire western United States which is extremely important to have grid reliability. My passion at work is to design complex data integration between the systems and architect complex solutions that can improve the grid reliability in the west USA and leverage the newest technologies such as data analytics, Blockchain, and digital twin to apply on the power systems to make the electric grid more secure, reliable, and resilient.


MC: 2021 was a major year for the grid, from outages to new technologies being rolled out and continued addition of distributed assets. What was your biggest lesson that you took from what you had to handle in the past year?

VP: We all have witnessed how wildfires in California in 2020 lead to power outages to most of California and how 70% of Texas had power outages with severe winter storms in 2021. With an already increasing complicated grid, these natural events and disasters make it even more complicated for the operators to maintain the grid. There is still a long way to improve the load forecasting models across the industry especially when natural weather events/disasters happen. With the rise of predictive analytics and the plethora of weather data available out there, there is a need to combine them to get more accurate load forecasting models so that operators can be better prepared in such extraordinary weather events.


MC: From looking back to now looking forward, do you have any predictions for what some of the major stories and areas of interest will be in 2022?

VP: The adoption of new technologies in the electrical power industry is like never before, which creates new opportunities and challenges as well. I predict utilities will flesh out more decarbonization plans and more and more states will come up with new tariffs and policies that drive clean energy that is in alignment with the infrastructure bill that was recently passed. Second, utilities will be spending more resources in increasing the resiliency with respect to unprecedented weather events whose frequency is increasing year by year. Adoption of newer technologies like 5G technology and cloud-based solutions will also increase at a very rapid pace. Finally, with the increase in energy storage devices and distributed energy resources, there will be more flexible load programs at the distribution level and in addition, there will be a lot of regulations and legislations happening in this space.

Varun Perumalla


MC: In a lot of ways, California tends to be pushing the envelope in power systems before the rest of the country. What’s it like to be involved at CAISO amid such a forward-looking and transformative region?

VP: I am blessed to work at CAISO, which allows me to work on leading technologies and forward-looking policies that have a great impact on the people in the real world. Especially on the technology front, we are far ahead compared to most of the system operators across the world. For example, we have modeled all our network model in Common Information Model (CIM) and maintained them in a central location which makes it easy to share our network model with our partners and improve (and expedite) our internal business process to great extent. Whereas, many other system operators are just starting to invest in their CIM journey. This is just one small example, however, in every aspect of using new technologies to the newest policies we want to lead things, set an example, and be a role model to other utilities and system operators.


MC: What has you most excited in the coming years in your role. Are there any particular programs, technologies, or strategies that you think our community should keep a close eye on?

VP: There has been big attention on resource adequacy program ever since the 2020 summer power outages in California. There are some new initiatives and policies that require some big changes to the resource adequacy program and I am heavily involved in redesigning this program as an architect. In addition to that, we are redesigning our integration to a newer technology stack i.e. using JSON and Kafka technologies in conformance to the CIM, which I believe we are one of the early players in this space, which I believe will be helpful for other utilities and system operators to put a close eye on this.


MC: What made you want to get more involved in the Energy Central Community? And on the other hand, what value do you hope to bring to the community?

VP: I always believe in giving back to the community, which made me feel that involving in the Energy Central community is one way of doing that. Through this community, I may be able to share some success stories, challenges and lessons learned with other people in our industry that could be beneficial to them. At the same time, I would like to learn from other people's experiences and get myself updated with all the newest technology implementations in utilities.


MC: What's your final message for the Energy Central readers? 

VP: We all are witnessing one of the best times in our industry with the rise and adoption of new technologies, huge investments coming from government and private investors. Let us all share our knowledge and work together in building the most advanced future grid that can take care of people for many decades to come.


Thanks to Varun Perumalla for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights and expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Varun will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see him across the platform.

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.

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Feb 3, 2022

Welcome Varun. It's nice to see more ISO/RTO people joining the EC community. I worked at ISO New England for 14 years. Now you need to convince Prince Phillip to join EC.

Varun Perumalla's picture
Varun Perumalla on Feb 3, 2022

Thanks Richard!! I gave your message to Prince :)

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Feb 5, 2022

Thanks, Varun. Say hello to that rascal for me. It was fun working together on FERC's etariff solution.

My friends call me Dick, my Mother called me Richard when I was in trouble.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Feb 4, 2022

Welcome to the community! I am excited to read your insights and have you involved in the community!

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