​By Lisa Meiman

Starting Oct. 27, 2017, new faces began 24-hour operations in the Rocky Mountain and Desert Southwest Dispatch centers, the result of a new North American Electric Reliability Corporation reliability standard that required a real-time assessment of the power system every 30 minutes. 

The standard took effect in April, transforming the way Dispatch conducts transmission operations across the country. To assure situational awareness, Dispatch is required to predict and prepare for a spectrum of contingencies in the bulk electric system every half hour. The grid must be able to withstand any contingency without exceeding system operating limits.

Rocky Mountain Supervisory Electrical Engineer Diane Glessner began planning years in advance for this change, opting to create a new position designed to meet the reliability standard. 

“The real-time engineer position was brand new for WAPA,” she said. “Only Bonneville Power Administration and the California Independent System Operator had real-time engineering desks in the West.”  

“We decided to bring in less experienced electrical engineers and train them,” said Rocky Mountain Electrical Real-Time Engineering Supervisor Zea Flores, who was hired in 2015 to develop the new program. “When they are fully trained, they have to operate proficiently by themselves, they need to work independently nights and weekends and they need to mentor new employees.”

Flores and Glessner hired five engineers before hiring changes took effect governmentwide in 2016. 

“With five qualified people, we could provide 24/7 real-time engineering coverage for the Desert Southwest and Rocky Mountain footprints,” said Glessner. “In two years, we classified, developed and hired for a brand new position that didn’t exist in most utilities. It was a breakneck pace to hire before the end of 2015.”

Flores had to quickly train the engineers as the NERC standard became enforceable in April. In addition to performing real-time analysis, the engineers also needed to be skilled in current-day and next-day studies and be certified as NERC Reliability Coordinator System Operators. To become proficient, the new engineers completed more than 3,800 hours of training in six to 10 months.

“Our RM operations engineers, who previously performed these studies with on-call duties, worked very hard to provide the on-the-job training for the new positions,” said Glessner. “This strained the group as they continued performing the rest of their operations engineering duties. The new engineers are now power flow experts. The real-time contingency analysis tool can result in inaccurate results, requiring a human with a lot of engineering experience to evaluate the data and determine where it went wrong.”

The real-time engineers started working in the control center in May and collaborate closely with the other Dispatch center desks, combining years of experience and training to respond to system changes. They evaluate possible contingencies for the entire DSW and RM footprint, ensuring the centers could back each other up, if needed.

“It has gone better than expected, especially in the control room,” said Flores. “The engineers entered an established culture and environment that was already a tight-knit team. They were welcomed with open arms and worked in naturally. We really appreciate that.”

NERC will release another reliability standard in 2018, requiring real-time contingency analysis. But the people in place now are well prepared for that change. 

“Due to other reliability standard changes, we can push boundaries more to free up megawatts of capacity,” said Flores. “When you operate closer to the edge, you take on more risk. The real-time engineering desk will analyze system constraints on a five-minute basis, providing more accurate information on system conditions and capability.”

​Training by the numbers

How were the five electrical engineers trained to take on a new position? Here is a list of the training they needed to complete in less than a year. 

  • Seven weeks of external training to learn software tools
    • Offline Power Flow Software
    • Advanced Applications
      • State Estimation
      • Real-time Contingency Analysis 
  • Around 120 hours of self-study for NERC Reliability Coordinator System Operator Certification
  • Four weeks shadowing dispatchers, senior engineers and pre-qualified real-time engineers
  • Total training: 238 days = 3,848 hours
Electrical Real-Time Engineering Supervisor Zea Flores and Real-Time Electrical Engineer Daniel Boateng in Loveland’s control center.

Electrical Real-Time Engineering Supervisor Zea Flores and Real-Time Electrical Engineer Daniel Boateng in Loveland’s control center. “Real-time engineer” is a new position in response to reliability standard changes by NERC. (Photo by Brian Rainbolt)

Last modified on September 12th, 2023