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The predictions interviews: Noel Schulz, IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES)


How do you see IEEE PES evolving over the 2014-2020 period?

First, we need to package technical materials and training so they can be utilized beyond the traditional face-to-face dynamic we’ve had in the past and has always been part of our heritage. There are people without the funding or opportunity to travel. So, we must develop a distribution system that reaches those masses.

The interesting thing about electric power, unlike other engineering fields, is that it’s everywhere. You can have power engineers in every county of Kansas [where Schulz is] or all over the world. So, how do we disseminate best practices and opportunities for advancement around the world? How do we include those masses as we develop standards?  We must figure out how to get those folks involved through teleconferencing and social networking websites. That’s one of the big evolutions for the IEEE PES.

The other big one is a paradigm shift in workforce. In the electric power industry, we’re very top-heavy with senior engineers who did a lot of great things in their careers, but those careers are mostly over. Now, 20-50 percent could be retiring in the next 5-10 years. After that, we’ll have a very different workforce. This leads to a lot of questions: How do we adapt to an engineering world with less mid-career management? How will young engineers cope with these changes and get up to speed: Where are those tools? And, how do we capture the knowledge that’s leaving? This is the largest challenge I see over the next five or six years.

How has IEEE PES been working on that challenge?

The IEEE PES has been very proactive in the U.S. over the last several years, especially in the area of scholarships, internships and mentoring. We’re now working to package programs internationally. Our goal for 2013 was to develop pilot projects in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Central/South America, and the Asia Pacific region. It’s all really a grassroots effort.

How do you see the overall industry change during the 2014-2020 period?

We’ll continue to see new technology, such as EVs, impact of that evolution. People who are bridges between fields, such as communications, controls, computers and power systems, will have great opportunities. You’ll see more technically diverse teams approaching these programs. One of our challenges within IEEE PES is to help provide background on the power system as a platform so that those teams can work more efficiently.

How do you see the role of women in power changing in the future?

It’s been an interesting dynamic. I’ve been on the board of the IEEE PES for 10 years. There were two women when I started; now there are five on the board. Honestly, by not having more women involved, we’re trying to do the job with only part of the resources. That’s a disservice to all. On the positive side, particularly in developing countries and in areas where we want to develop power solutions, you see a lot of women taking on development roles.

Making a difference in the world—making sure the social impact is understood and evaluated—is more evident in women engineers and the younger generation. They want to make a difference. Women look at those aspects a little more.

What's the best advice you'd give engineers about managing their careers today?

To the managers/senior engineers, I’d say: Look, those younger engineers are not you. It’s a culture shift, absolutely. But, young engineers are sponges for information. Sometimes, they see that as being high maintenance, but it can be a real positive. Those kids want to learn.

To the younger engineers, I’d say: Goal setting is very important. Understand how to develop skill sets along the way. And learn a second or third language. Network and listen. Find a mentor. And, I hope they realize that it’s a very exciting time to be in the power and energy space right now. There’s so much opportunity to make a difference.

What's the best advice you'd give researchers in this industry?

Continue to work on storage. I tell my students if they can do storage, they can rename the college of engineering here after themselves. Yes, there have been incremental storage solutions, but a bigger, newer solution is needed with all this developing smart grid technology.

Along with being president of IEEE PES, you’re also associate dean for research and graduate programs in the College of Engineering at Kansas State University.  How does your work at Kansas State give you a fresh angle for your IEEE work?

It’s taught me the importance of social media for networking: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. I see that with the younger generation, and us older folks aren’t as good. It will probably take IEEE a little longer to do that, but it’s important. It builds connections. At Kansas State, I see what workforce is coming for the future, and that really allows me to help IEEE make changes and prepare for that younger set.

Is there one item that utilities truly aren't prepared for that you see in your crystal ball?

The biggest concern I have is utilities’ aversion to risk. We are extremely conservative and skeptical of everything. I don’t think we’re proactive enough to do a lot of radical thinking, and we need to do some radical thinking.

I’m not saying be foolish, but calculated risk—good risk—can help to come up with solutions faster. We’re not as agile as we need to be.



How do you expect the electric utility industry to change over the 2014-2020 time period?

We’ll become better at integrating smart grid technologies so we can have an effective system of systems. Today, the technologies we’ve deployed are rather islanded and our thinking, engineering disciplines and businesses processes reflect traditional business silos.

Cybersecurity will become a bigger concern. We’ll increase investments to keep this critical infrastructure safe. We’ll formalize cybersecurity rules and software’s role in utility cybersecurity solutions.

And, we’ll learn to create value from smart grid data. We’ll develop algorithms and visualization tools to derive high-impact insights from the data and use the insights to run our utilities better.

How do you see IEEE evolving during that same period?

IEEE entities have learned they must be nimble enough to interact and align with one another to pursue these opportunities. And, IEEE’s global profile will grow, especially in standards development.

Finally, IEEE is modernizing its identity and voice. IEEE’s audience today includes non-engineer professionals and others interested in technology.

How do you see the role of women in the power industry changing in the future?

Women are well suited for the power industry. They’re usually collaborative in nature, able to understand the big picture and analyze complex systems. Today in the United States, women hold just 24 percent of STEM jobs and fewer power industry jobs. We can change that.   

We must get more girls to study math and science; increase awareness of power-related careers through the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative (; and enable women to contribute more by fostering inclusive cultures and providing developmental opportunities. All three strategies must occur in parallel if we’re to benefit from women’s capabilities and thinking and support diverse contributions in the workforce. 

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Thank Kathleen for the Post!

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