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This summer, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the new and returning members of the Electricity Advisory Committee (EAC), which advises DOE on electricity resilience, reliability, security, interdependency, and policy issues. In a new series of posts, we hear from the members of the EAC to learn more about their backgrounds, their predictions for the future of the electric grid, and their advice for young professionals in the energy space. This week we are highlighting the chair and vice-chair of the Smart Grid subcommittee.

Tom Bialek, San Diego Gas & Electric Company

Tom Bialek Headshot EAC

Q: What have you worked on during your time in the EAC?

I am actively engaged in the Executive Leadership, chairing the Smart Grid Subcommittee and participating in the Storage Subcommittee. Given my exposure to transmission and distribution issues, including distributed energy resources in California, I have provided a utility perspective from an area of the country that has seen significant change.

Q: Can you tell us about your professional journey that led you to the EAC?

Over the course of my career I have worked on both sides of the proverbial utility fence, gaining experience with both manufacturers and utilities. I have been involved with equipment and systems doing anything from manufacturing and planning to designing and testing. There are few major pieces of equipment that I have not seen, pulled apart, repaired, and put together. This has provided me with a unique perspective on the role of data in making actionable decisions, a perspective that is especially important today.

Q: What new developments excite you about the future of energy?

Technology has and will continue to fundamentally change how customers choose to satisfy their energy needs. As stewards of this energy future, we need to leverage advances in technologies to improve operational efficiencies and provide improved visibility to ensure that the electricity customers rely upon, and take for granted, is always available.

Q: The grid has evolved significantly in the past century. What do you expect from the Grid of 2100?

As the grid continues to evolve and electricity consumption on a per capita basis increases, the Grid of 2100 must become more flexible and resilient. It must be available at all times and remain affordable for all customers. New technologies will continue to be developed and implemented, but to meet customers’ expectations, manufacturers must strive to develop products with standardized interfaces to facilitate their choices.

Q: What is something surprising people do not know about you?

I play the role of a gentleman farmer with over 50 fruit tree and grape vines; which explains why I am always busy. I am fermenting my red grapes as we speak.

Darlene Phillips, PJM Interconnection

Darlene Phillips Headshot EAC

Q: Why did you join the EAC? What made you want to become a committee member?

I became an attorney, after being an engineer in this industry, specifically because I wanted to help better shape energy policy and direction. This opportunity has helped me to further that goal.

Q: Can you tell us about your professional journey that led you to the EAC?

I started my career as a control room engineer in Michigan. It was actually the best job I could have had as it really set me up for success and started me on the career  trajectory I have experienced. I completed my MBA shortly after and started consulting during a time when the wholesale side of the industry was deregulating and ISOs/RTOs were developing.  After working really hard as an engineer and consultant to implement policies that were seemingly inconsistent with physics, I decided to go to law school and focus on the policy side of the business. I have now come full circle as Executive Director, Operations Engineering Support for PJM. I must say that my breadth of experiences makes me better at what I do.

Q: In your view, what is the biggest challenge facing the electric grid today?

I believe there are many big challenges on the horizon. However, if I had to name one, it would be to continue to provide the same or better reliability that customers have come to enjoy, as the industry evolves toward cleaner and more distributed resources.

Q: What advice do you have for a young person considering a career in the electricity industry?

Don’t limit yourself by what you do today.  Do other things, apply for other roles and take on challenges.  All you need is hard work and learning agility.

Q: What is something surprising people do not know about you?

I was in the Michigan Marching Band during a time when our football team made it to three Rose Bowls and a Gator Bowl.

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Learn more about EAC activities and meetings

Watch this space for more profiles of the members of the Electricity Advisory Committee