I left 19 years ago. I left not only my family, but also the lab and my familiar surroundings. I left my friends at the lab where I had worked for 22 years. I left, aided by a generous buy-out package, and moved to a new city and started a new career here at T&D World.

But now, 19 years later, I was headed back to my roots. I headed home to see Rick Hartlein, who was not only my workmate, but also my college roommate. I headed home to see my mentor and soul mate Hollis Reese, a prince of a man. Hollis invested himself in me; he saw potential in me I couldn’t see in myself. Thank you, Hollis, from the bottom of my heart. And I was headed back to see compadres I had worked with most every day: Tom Champion, Ray Hill, Barry Fairly and that most conservative of men Dean Williams.

When you invest 22 years in a place, you would like to see that those years made a difference; that there is some evidence that you’d been there; that someone picked up where you left off; that someone had added a little water and fertilizer to what you planted earlier.

What I found thrilled me.

Rick Hartlein, NEETRAC director

Not only had the facilities grown, but the lab had mutated from a facility that had focused on underground to a full-service facility covering all aspects of T&D. And new DNA had been introduced with so many slick research initiatives now coming into being.

There are 38 members that make up the organization now called NEETRAC (National Electric Energy Testing, Research and Application Center). This lab, once owned by Georgia Power, is now a Georgia Institute of Technology facility. Research and testing that had been done predominantly for one utility is now performed for multiple utilities and vendor companies across North America — and my old pal Rick Hartlein is now the director of this center. And with the Georgia Tech affiliation, NEETRAC has easy access to some of the brainiest professors anywhere. Did I mention I am a proud Yellow Jacket and a Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech?

The confluence of opportunity and need are providing NEETRAC members with an opportunity to shape the future of our industry. For example, NEETRAC has a project funded by the Department of Energy ARPA-E program, where it is evaluating innovative methods to control power flows on the distribution grid. Frank Lambert, NEETRAC distribution manager, is running this project, and expects to test several devices and systems that will be sorely needed as we strive to control an increasingly complex power-delivery system.

Just think about the difficulties we face on the distribution system. We must now respond to two-way flows along with disturbances caused by perturbations to the force; perturbations that include grid-connected roof-top solar, distributed generation, energy storage, intermittent wind and electric vehicles.

Working out

NEETRAC has done similar pioneering work in controlling power flows on individual circuits on the transmission grid. The lab has tested devices developed by a Georgia Tech professor to inject series impedance on individual transmission lines. These devices offered by Smart Wire Grid are now up and operating on the Tennessee Valley Authority and Georgia Power systems.

When I worked at Georgia Power, I was involved in an EPRI-funded project run by Vito Longo (now T&D World’s technology editor) to dynamically rate overhead lines based on weather conditions. Working with Georgia Tech Prof. Bill Black, we developed and validated models that enabled control centers to rate lines dynamically based on wind speed, wind direction, solar incident radiation and ambient temperature. Now, 20 years later, we have added the ability to discretely dispatch power flows on the T&D system to more closely match the dynamic capacity available on the system.

NEETRAC Distribution Manager

A real advantage of third-party laboratories including NEETRAC is that they can provide unbiased, objective testing results. For example, NEETRAC recently installed an underground 138-kV test loop in its high bay. Here, vendor and utility engineers witness the response of the cable, splices and terminating systems to accelerated voltage and current withstand testing. So a utility installing an underground system would have confidence in the individual components and that the components would play together well.

Too often, we get so busy in the day to day that we miss the bigger picture, so this trip back in time helped me gain perspective on those early years of my career.

The last duty my mentor Hollis Reese performed at the research center was to transfer the governance of the laboratory from Georgia Power to Georgia Tech. Both Hollis and I were thrilled to see that the industry continues to have access to these fine facilities and to the team that still calls NEETRAC home.

Editors note: To see more photos from Rick’s “You Can Go Home Again” tour, visit http://tdworld.com/gallery/neetrac-testing-labs. To learn more about NEETRAC,
visit www.neetrac.gatech.edu.