“It is of benefit to have improved life through discovered knowledge.”
Virgil (ancient Roman poet, author of Aeneid)
Certainly “knowledge” is a major defining characteristic of mankind and a major contributor to our civilization and achievements. Ancient Rome was a milestone in technical achievement with engineered material (concrete), engineered structures (the Colosseum), and engineered systems (roads and aqueducts). All that preceded, such as the primitive use of fire and tools, to all that followed, like modern probing of atomic nucleus to the extents of the universe, have been the result of acquired knowledge. It is a clear fact that knowledge is a cornerstone of civilization. However, the discovery of even the smallest bit of “knowledge” is worth nothing in the long run without “knowledge transfer”. The transfer of knowledge throughout history was the real key to our civilization and success. And nothing is truer than this going forward.
To bring this to the perspective of our shared interest in “Large Electric Systems” (as designated by our CIGRE name), knowledge and knowledge transfer have been key to developing our power systems to the current state-of-the-art for the benefit and improvement of life. To be more specific to the topic of this article — Substations, volumes of knowledge have been transferred to keep substations (the vital hubs of the power generation-transmission-distribution critical infrastructure network) working in a safe, economical, resilient and beneficial manner.
But nothing happens without effort. Nothing lasts without maintenance. We have the knowledge, but we are apparently at a crossroad regarding knowledge transfer, perhaps like one we have never encountered before in our industry’s history. One that requires effort and maintenance to meet the challenge to progress onward without interruption.
Typical 138-12kV Substation
This crossroad is where the egress of many aging and retiring experienced substation engineers intersects the ingress of few young and newly hired inexperienced substation engineers. This intersection is the ideal location for the transfer of knowledge so vital to the continual successful operation of the grid. At this crossroad, these two groups either are either meeting or failing to meet in the transition. As an analogy, the baton can either be passed or dropped in the relay; the marathon will be either won or lost.
The concern of this crossroad and the need for knowledge transfer has been known for some time now in the industry. The adverse trend and concern persist and grow over the years. It is essential to maintain a knowledgeable workforce for resilient service. However, industry surveys indicate roughly 25 percent of employees have the potential to retire in the next 5 years. And almost half of utilities see the potential for much institutional knowledge to walk out the door among their top challenges.
Recognizing the growing concern, CIGRE SC B3 approved a new Working Group B3.58 “Knowledge Transfer of Substation Engineering and Experiences” in January 2020. Realizing the importance, this WG quickly recruited 39 members and convened in May 2020. The world was dealing with a pandemic, so it was necessary to conduct all meetings virtually.
Typical Substation Engineers Inspecting Construction
- Problem Recognition: Substation assets remain in service longer than several generations of the engineers working on them, thus requiring a continual process of knowledge transfer through these generations. This is a worldwide issue encompassing highly developed to developing remote regions. It concerns utilities, consultants and manufacturers. How will necessary knowledge and experience be transferred as the gap widens?
- Extent: Effort is needed to ensure practical knowledge is transferred in all areas of expertise: planning, designing, construction, commissioning, operating, maintaining, retrofitting, expanding and retiring substations. What important corporate knowledge exists now for these phases? How is it being recorded for future generations? What gaps exist?
- Coverage: Focus on power fundamentals taught in university curriculum, progress to advanced on-the-job training required for complex designs, and finally to subject matter expert specialist assignments. Consider the technology evolution (perhaps even revolution) from analog, electro-mechanical to the digital software-microprocessor era. Consider business evolution from traditional utilities to RTOs, deregulation, consortiums, mandated regulatory rules and the like.
- Methods & Techniques: Identify what knowledge transfer plans and processes exist now. Where are the gaps? What techniques are used or should be used: in-house training programs, university continuing education, webinars, professional certification, mentoring, industry forums, manufacturer seminars, research institutions, professional organization tutorials and conferences? Which are better utilized for near-term vs. long-term transfer?
- Tools & Technologies: Use of digital libraries, knowledge management systems, 3D modelling, advanced design software (e.g., grounding, shielding), digital communications, mobile devices, social media, video meetings, augmented reality and virtual reality.
- Survey: a 42-question survey was completed by 84 respondents from all regions of the globe, all segments of the industry, all engineering roles, and all levels of experience.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Benjamin Franklin (American writer, scientist, inventor, electrical experimenter, statesman, diplomat)
Those companies investing systematically in training are usually very well positioned in their market since their skilled employees add value to their business. Focusing back on our “Large Electric Systems”, this is very important in the power sector due to the constant and profound rate at which technical knowledge is expanding and its vital role in successful operations. Investing time, effort and money in education pays substantial dividends in cost-effective, resilient and efficient substations where innovations flourish and where cost overruns, misoperations and safety hazards can be prevented.
But even on a much higher level, knowledge transfer takes on a much more significant meaning. Failure to transfer this technical knowledge can result in a critical failure of a company’s operational and safety performance. It is not so much that the “transfer of knowledge” in itself is vital, it is the vital “transfer of success” for a company… which is dependent on that knowledge.
CIGRE Session 2022 Paris Workshop (Face to Face discussions on September 2nd 8:30 am)
Plans have been confirmed to conduct a workshop to solicit input directly from engineers facing the challenge. The WG’s purpose and progress will be described. Smaller break-down groups will discuss 2 to 3 relevant topics moderated by WG members. The feedback will be presented to the group with relevant input added to the TB. The WG extends an open invitation to all attendees to participate in this workshop and contribute their input.
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