Wanda Reder - Grid Guru

Lighting the way to a smarter grid

6 December 2010

 When Senior Member Wanda Reder became the 2008–2009 president of the IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES), she set her sights on modernizing its image and creating a gateway for IEEE's work on the smart grid.

The results were the IEEE Smart Grid Portal, which launched this year, and the first IEEE PES Conference on Innovative Smart Grid Technologies, coming up in January in Gaithersburg, Md.

The Smart Grid Portal offers publications, standards, tutorials, news, and information on conferences. The site is aimed at manufacturers, policymakers, educators, government leaders, researchers, and others involved in the power and energy, IT, and communications industries.

reder Photo: S&C Electric Co.

"We needed a way to bring the 38 IEEE societies together so we could leverage our areas of expertise, communicate with each other, and then go to those affecting the smart-grid marketplace with one voice," says Reder, who since 2004 has served as vice president of power systems services at S&C Electric Co., in Chicago. S&C is a global manufacturer of power equipment and services. In September, she was appointed to the U.S. Department of Energy's Electricity Advisory Committee, which will define strategies for modernizing the power grid.

As chair of the new IEEE Smart Grid group, her job is to coordinate IEEE societies' sometimes disparate agendas and find a common goal. The IEEE Smart Grid group "is a virtual network to help people in their various organizations work together across traditional silos without creating additional overhead," she says.

The initiative aims to go beyond the portal in disseminating information and promoting cohesiveness within the industry with an e-newsletter, a LinkedIn community, more international conferences to establish a greater global presence, a cross-disciplinary smart-grid reference, and standards activities. This includes approving the IEEE P2030 Draft Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation With the Electric Power System and End-Use Applications and Loads.

IEEE is the right organization to tackle the challenges, Reder says: "There isn't a piece of smart-grid technology in which IEEE doesn't have some kind of expertise. We're working on such things as power systems, consumer electronics, communications, computers, instruments and measurement, photovoltaics, and standards. This broad base of technical expertise, coupled with our global membership, gives us a big leg up on any other technical organization dealing with smart-grid technology.

"We want to be the place for one-stop smart-grid shopping," she adds.

Reder, who grew up in South Dakota, majored in engineering at South Dakota State University, in Brookings. She got her first taste of power engineering during a summer job at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, in Arlington, Va.

In the decade following her 1986 graduation, Reder held several engineering and managerial positions for Northern States Power (NSP), in Minneapolis. Concurrently, she earned an MBA in 1990 from the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul. At NSP, she developed and implemented a system to manage the electricity used by water heaters and air conditioners, led the automated-meter-reading charge, and identified long-term grid requirements to accommodate increasing electrical needs. Usually, she was the lone female engineer on her team.

It was this work and the challenge of shaping a more efficient energy system that piqued her interest in smart-grid technology. In 1997, she was promoted to president and CEO of an NSP subsidiary, Ultra Power Technologies, in nearby Brooklyn Park, which tested underground cable. In 2000, she left to become vice president of Davies Consulting, in Chevy Chase, Md., establishing its energy-consulting branch.

The next year, Reder joined the utility conglomerate Exelon Corp., in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., overseeing engineering, system planning, standards, and asset management. A year later, she was elected to the board of the IEEE Power Engineering Society, which was soon to be renamed. When she was elected president in 2008, she organized a rebranding effort, beginning with the name change, and focused on promoting forward-thinking and environmentally conscious aspects of power and energy to attract younger engineers and more women.

She established the Power and Energy Engineering Workforce Collaborative to find ways to develop more smart-grid engineers, anticipating an upcoming talent drain.

"In the power industry, you're looking at roughly a 50 percent attrition rate for engineers in the United States in the next five years, because many are expected to retire," Reder says. "It's critical that we attract the best and brightest into an educational system geared to prepare engineers to design, operate, and maintain today's electrical infrastructure well into the future. The demand for this talent is increasing while power engineering professors are retiring at a rapid rate. We have work to do!"


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