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Dwayne Stradford, Leader and Innovator at AEP

Posted to Esri in the Utility Management Group
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Bill Meehan's picture
Director, Utility Solutions, Esri

William (Bill) Meehan is the Director of Utility Solutions for Esri. He is responsible for business development and marketing Esri’s geospatial technology to global electric and gas utilities.A...

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  • Sep 13, 2022
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Dwayne Stradford is the managing director of Enterprise North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) Reliability Assurance (ENRA) Strategic Initiatives at American Electric Power (AEP). The Electric Reliability Organization (ERO) Enterprise NERC ENRA team provides central coordination and decision-making authority for the NERC compliance obligations across AEP.

I had the pleasure of visiting with Dwayne recently, and he was kind enough to agree to be interviewed.

Esri: Dwayne, tell us about yourself and how you got involved in electricity.

Dwayne: I'm from Edgewood, Maryland. Dad was in the army. So you could say I was an army brat. My older brother and I grew up in a boot camp situation. In a good way. There was a lot of structure and discipline in my upbringing.

I loved math and science in high school. A section on electricity in physics class piqued my interest as I was growing up. I also gravitated toward computer programming. Programming and playing with electronic devices formed my career decision. This led me to Virginia Tech, where I graduated with a BS degree in electrical engineering and a minor in mathematics.

In 1994, I landed a job with American Electric Power in the Roanoke, Virginia, office. That initial exposure to an electric utility cemented my career path in power engineering.

Esri: What was the challenge that appealed to you at AEP?

Dwayne: I went from Roanoke to Columbus, Ohio, working in a transmission dispatching center. One of my earliest assignments was tracking an essential 765 kV project. It got delayed because we were trying to route the line's path through a national forest. Because of the delay, we still had some single and double EHV (extra high voltage) contingency scenarios that would potentially lead to some system stability concerns. Without proactively addressing the issue, this situation could have caused large-scale outages. Thus, this was my initiation into the world of transmission reliability and the complex challenges that it brings. As an engineer, I love to solve problems. This was a pretty intense project developing an automatic load shedding program. So this challenge greatly appealed to me. We eventually solved the stability problem through additional creative engineering solutions.

Esri: You have a minor degree in mathematics as well. Did you do any teaching?

Dwayne: Sure, aside from a short stint as a substitute teacher, I did considerable teaching of power system analysis programs on and off throughout my career.

Esri: What does your current role at AEP entail?

Dwayne: ENRA Strategic Initiatives looks at the long game of NERC compliance. My team is creating a five-year plan based on automation projects and interactions with our corporate stakeholders. We support our incident management team by project managing their larger multibusiness unit mitigation plans. We have an external advocacy obligation to identify and report out on emerging industry trends.

I also have a process improvement team and a project management office. We do risk assessments and facilitate kaizen events to identify issues. It's all about proactive anticipation.

Esri: Your career has been based on electric transmission. What role does it play in the movement to a carbon-free future?

The handwriting is on the wall about a carbon-free future. The industry is slowly phasing out coal and gas plants. So you look at where we build transmission to get the renewable generation from where it is produced to where it is needed most. That's the job of transmission. Yet with the retirement of rotating machines replaced by intermittent sources, we must examine multiple issues.

Esri: Right. Tell us about the issues with a lack of rotating generation sources from coal and gas power plants.

Dwayne: The general public doesn't understand this. I like to think of the circus tent analogy. To run a power system, you need voltage support. Think of that support like poles that hold up a huge circus tent. The rotating machines that currently dominate our power system provide that voltage support. Removing them means that the voltage support may become compromised.

We are looking at several solutions, including locating additional synchronous condensers, capacitors, and storage systems to maintain the voltage—sort of like adding different kinds of posts to the circus tent.

The key is proper modeling of the power system.

Esri: You used the term modeling. AEP has one of the most advanced transmission GIS systems in the country. It's all about modeling. How can GIS help in your job?

Dwayne: One area where GIS could help that isn't used today is the recognition of the interconnections between each company's transmission grids. You want to make sure you don't create artificial congestion in the marketplace. Transmission congestion can occur when there is insufficient power transfer capability across transmission boundaries. Congestion is bad enough, but to artificially create congestion is even worse. GIS could help identify those areas where this may be occurring.

As I stated before, the reactive capability is like a pole holding up a circus tent. GIS could help us map out those places where the voltages need propping up—where a new pole is needed.

Esri: Are there other areas GIS could help in transmission reliability?

Dwayne: Sure. Vegetation management is the most obvious one. And we are actively involved in vegetation management using GIS. First, you map areas of accelerated tree growth. Then you overlay that on the transmission grid. Then you look at where power loads the lines and visualize the sag and the interference of potential tree growth.

Another area is mapping loading areas. We can map areas where the lines have been loaded up beyond 90 or 95 percent of its emergency rating.

Inspections using drones are another growing area of GIS use. The drone data is loaded into the GIS. It could help to identify flaws in the system or encroachments along the right-of-way.

Modeling and mapping bird migrations are critical. For example, raptors' droppings can lead to flashovers. GIS helps identify where you've had issues and where they may occur.

Esri: You have been in leadership for a while. Tell us about your leadership style.

Dwayne: I lead by example. I work to get people to buy in to do that as well.

I like to get my hands dirty. I tell anybody that's worked for me, especially from a manager's perspective, if I do spreadsheets, I expect you to do spreadsheets. If I write documents, I expect you to write documents. Then, when it's time to divvy out assignments, they know that I'm all in.

As a leader, I understand that I don't know everything. So I need to learn from my teams and trust them to execute the work. I also let my team know that I'm not perfect. So if I come to you and I ask questions, it's because I'm curious. I want to be enlightened on what it takes to get the job done.

I help my managers and my individual contributors showcase their skills. Empower them. Encourage them. Give them the behind-the-scenes support that they need to take things to the next level.

Leadership is also about being and staying connected.

I try to show and demonstrate that we're all interconnected. There's a lot of interconnected tissue in NERC compliance. It's about coaching, being constructive, and praising great work product. I try to do it all routinely.

Team cooperation and collaboration are contagious. This behavior becomes a way of life. I spoke a lot about network modeling. In a nutshell, leadership is also about modeling—modeling behavior.

Esri: That's great—I like the term modeling. Finally, what advice would you give Esri?

Dwayne: It's an old cliché but still applicable—think outside the box. However, sometimes you've got to blow up the box and just think. There are no crazy ideas. There are no stupid questions. If you come up with something, maybe someone has another piece of this puzzle somewhere else that they've been thinking about. The bolder you are, the more you are able to innovate.

And throw some ideas up on the wall. No judgment. Just throw it out.

Don't be afraid to experiment. However, try to fail fast if you do.

Esri: Great advice. Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?

Dwayne: Do the math—count your learned experiences as assets—memorialize your institutional knowledge before it walks out the door. Just make sure you keep the receipts.

Esri: Great advice. Thanks for sharing, and I hope to speak with you again.

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Thank Bill for the Post!
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