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Welcome Leo St. Hilaire, Expert in the Transmission Professionals Community- [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]

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Matt Chester 187230
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...

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  • Jan 19, 2022
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The power sector needs to constantly grow and adapt to the needs of its customer base, and amid the growing amount of renewables on the grid that more than ever before means the proper buildout and maintenance of the transmission infrastructure. Distributed assets and ever-changing real-time markets for electricity have introduced new challenges for transmission professionals, but the rate of new grid modernization tools similarly brings about new opportunities. All told, it may be the most exciting point in time to be involved in transmission since the original build out of the electric power grid.

Because of that rapidly changing  nature of transmission, the Energy Central Community takes special notice of the importance in information sharing and promoting lessons learned by experts in this sector. Specifically with our Network of Experts, we seek to bring you access to leaders across the transmission industry that can offer an inside peek into the high-level discussions taking place by energy industry experts. And today we have the great pleasure of introducing the latest industry leader who has agreed to be a part of that network, Leo St. Hilaire. Leo is a Middle East Technical Advisor for Manitoba Hydro International, backed by a career that's given him the inside view of everything going on in transmission systems across the globe, making him the perfect expert for our Transmission Professionals community.

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 To welcome Leo to the Network of Experts, we wanted to introduce him to the community with an iteration of our Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’

Enjoy!

Profile photo of Leo St.Hilaire

 

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?

Leo St. Hilaire: As an employee of Manitoba Hydro, they provided a great deal of opportunity to progress. I started my career with Manitoba Hydro in 1980 almost right out of high school. I started in their Technical Operator program developing the knowledge and skills to operate hydraulic generating stations and HVDC converter stations in Northern Manitoba.

After 9 years of Northern living, I moved to the System Control Center, where I started another program to operate the Manitoba Hydro Power system. Here I developed the knowledge and skills in System Operations. I progressed through various roles in the Control Center Department until I became department manager.

To expand my knowledge further, I took on the Transmission department role getting involved with transmission tariff and regulatory issues. And then went back to the System Control department after reorganizing the Transmission Department.

In 2014, I was offered a position as General Manager of the Saudi Arabia Branch of Manitoba Hydro International based in Riyadh and consultant in Power System Operations. Here I developed and managed MHI’s business interests in Saudi Arabia as well provided guidance to National Grid SA senior managers and the vice president of Operations on operational issues, policy, and risk to name a few.

Due to a political disagreement between the Canadian and Saudi Arabia government, I took on a role as an operations consultant working for MHI in Abu Dhabi in 2019. Here I worked with the Operations department at Transco, performing a review of their operations and provided recommendations on areas of improvement.  

And in 2021, ended up back in Riyadh working with the Operations business line of National Grid SA through the GCC eLab who had partnered with MHI on a number of contracts. So once again I am providing guidance to the senior management on operational issues and on issues related to the operation of renewables. It is an interesting time here as the Energy Ministry has planned a large renewables build with between 60 GW and 90 GW of renewables to be installed by 2030 depending on GDP growth.

 

MC: It looks like you’ve spent time working on the grid systems in multiple countries—how have you found that’s informed your perspective on the utility sector as a whole? Are there best practices from one country that should be used in other ones?

LS: Yes, I have worked in a number of countries but the transmission business and system operations looks similar across them. The utilities here in the Middle East look to North American and European best practices. The transition to renewables is going to change a number of best practices and will keep things interesting.

Most people look to the digital and smart tools on the grid as purely an asset, but I’m assuming from your position they bring with them some unique challenges as well. What are some of the hardest parts of handling to new modern grid technologies?

From a system operation perspective it has to be data overload.  More and more data is being sent to control centers and the system operators are trying to determine what it all means.

With intelligent device comes increasing connectivity to the internet the greater the exposure to cybersecurity attacks.

 

MC: You do a lot of work in risk assessment and mitigation—what are some of the common risk areas that you see power industry stakeholders overlooking?

LS: The most common risk that is overlooked is extreme weather and the potential damage it can do and how to mitigate these. We have seen this play out especially over the last 10 to 15 years. Increasing number of weather events caused by hurricanes, tornados, unusual cold snaps, ice storms, wild fires and droughts causing significant damage to infrastructure and extended periods of customer outages.

 

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?

LS: The major shift to renewables has me excited. Right now I am in Saudi Arabia where they have big plans to invest in solar, wind and storage by 2030. This will create some challenges for system operations but definitely makes for interesting times.

I am currently investigating inertia measurement technology that was developed by Reactive Technologies. I am hoping to convince the National Grid SA in starting a pilot project now before the new projects start coming online. This way they can make better investment decisions as to placement of synchronous condenser or other devices in the transmission system to improve system inertia.

 

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?

LS: I simply want to share my knowledge if it can benefit someone else. I have been amazed at some of the posts I have read in my groups and have learned a few things that I didn’t know. So it is a bidirectional knowledge transfer which will be crucial for the changes the industry will experience with climate change and the renewables transition.  

________________________________________

Thanks to Leo St. Hilaire for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights an expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Leo 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 her 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.

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