Four women ace system engineering at the New York Power Authority
These technical women agree that NYPA provides a diverse and encouraging environment where they feel their contributions are valued
By Laurel McKee Ranger
Power is clearly the business of the New York Power Authority (NYPA, White Plains, NY). NYPA is, in fact, the largest state public power authority in the nation. It has seventeen generating facilities situated around the state and more than 1,400 circuit miles of transmission lines.
More than 80 percent of the NYPA's electricity is generated with clean hydro power at the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project, the Niagara Power Project, the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project and several smaller hydro facilities. Niagara alone accounts for more than 2.4 million kW.
The power is sold to government agencies, municipally owned and rural cooperative electric systems; to private utilities for resale without profit to their customers; and, under federal requirements, to neighboring states. NYPA also sells power to nonprofit groups and job-producing companies that contribute to economic development in the state.
NYPA system-planning engineers ensure the reliability of the existing system and think ahead to the future. In the past, few women worked as engineers in power generation and transmission, but that's changing rapidly, particularly at NYPA.
Dr Xia Jiang and Khin T. M. Swe are planning for the future
Xia Jiang, PhD and Khin T. M. Swe both work as system planning engineers in the NYPA's transmission planning group. Jiang, a system planning engineer, and Swe, a system planning engineer II, are working on the future of the system. They do modeling to check out the reliability and stability of system projections.
Dr Jiang looks at the long term
Jiang joined NYPA in 2007. She explains that she looks at the system five to ten years out, and does studies to evaluate its future reliability.
"I also evaluate new technologies to see if they will be of benefit, and assess the situation when developers want to hook up," she says.
Jiang is originally from China. She has a 2000 BS and a 2003 MS in electrical power engineering from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. In 2007 she completed a PhD in EE from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY). While working on her PhD she learned about NYPA, and when an opening for a system planning engineer came up, she applied for it.
Jiang is a senior member of IEEE and a reviewer on power delivery for several IEEE Transactions publications. She's also a member of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society, and an associate editor of the International Journal of Power and Energy Systems. She represents NYPA on New York State's Transmission Planning Advisory Subcommittee, which performs detailed technical reviews of all New York independent system operator (NYISO) interconnection studies. She has co-authored many scientific papers and a book chapter.
Khin T. M. Swe: very rewarding projects
Swe arrived in the U.S. from Burma in 1971. She completed a 1980 BSEE and a 1982 MSEE from the Polytechnic Institute of New York (New York, NY). She participates in the Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC) taskforce on system studies, regularly attends NPCC meetings and has conducted the NPCC bulk power system elements classification test for various NYPA facilities.
One of her favorite projects has been a study for NYPA's alternate underfrequency load shedding (UFLS) program. "Our alternate UFLS program was approved by the NPCC," Swe says. "The study results revealed the robustness of NYPA's transmission network. It's been very rewarding."
Before beginning her career at NYPA in 2006 Swe worked for Washington Group International (formerly Raytheon Engineers & Constructors, New York, NY) from 1973 to 2004. She started out in administrative support and moved up to senior engineer, performing load flow and stability studies, and voltage drop and short circuit studies for safety systems.
Swe is a member of IEEE, engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi, and Eta Kappa Nu. In her spare time she helps Burmese immigrants improve their English.
Joharath Kutty and Liana Hopkins: ensuring system reliability
Kutty, a system planning engineer, and Hopkins, senior system planning engineer I, work in the power supply and transmission business unit's operations planning group at NYPA. Their jobs are designed to ensure the stability and reliability of NYPA's current system. Both Kutty and Hopkins are members of IEEE and have their professional engineering licenses in the state of New York.
Joharath Kutty maximizes availability
It's Kutty's job to help ensure the reliability of the transmission system. "We look at the maintenance schedule on a daily basis and do load-flow studies if needed," she explains. "Our primary responsibility is to support the Clark Energy Center at Marcy, NY and respond to concerns about outages and other operational system issues. We have to maximize the availability and reliability of the transmission system for secure operation."
The issues that arise require critical thinking; problems must be resolved quickly. Kutty finds it very rewarding when the solutions her group recommends are implemented without further operational system issues. "This means our studies are valid," she says.
She has a 1999 bachelor of technology degree in electrical and electronics engineering from the Government Engineering College (Thrissur, Kerala, India) and a 2011 MSEE from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (Brooklyn, NY). She did her grad work at the university's West-chester Graduate Center (Hawthorne, NY). She also took a two-year advanced power technology course through Siemens Power Technologies International. She started with NYPA in 2002 as an assistant planning engineer.
Kutty grew up in Kerala state in India. Her father, his brothers and her own brother are all engineers.
Liana Hopkins is a senior system planning engineer
Liana Hopkins, who works closely with Kutty, was born in Greece. As a teenager she moved with her family to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Like Kutty, Hopkins comes from an engineering family: her grandfather, mother, father, aunt and uncle are all EEs like herself.
"I had no choice! Luckily I was very good in math and physics," she says. "Two of my siblings also became EEs and the other became a doctor. She probably didn't like math," Hopkins adds with a laugh.
Hopkins received a bachelor of engineering degree in EE from McGill University (Montreal, Canada) in 1974 and an MSEE from the University of Quebec (Montreal, Canada) in 1976. After graduation she went to the USSR for a year to work as a research assistant at the high voltage lab of Leningrad Polytechnic Institute. Then she returned to Canada to work at the high voltage lab of the Hydro Quebec Research Institute for another year, and finally moved into industry as an associate EE with Tecsult International Ltd (Montreal, Quebec, Canada).
In 1980 Hopkins moved to the U.S. as a senior engineer with Ebasco Services Inc (New York, NY). In 1986 she joined NYPA as an EE II in the power generation department. She became a senior system planning engineer in the operations planning department in 2000. Like Jiang, Hopkins has coauthored many scientific publications.
Diverse, supportive environment
All four engineers agree that NYPA provides a diverse and encouraging environment where they know their contributions are valued.
"I feel a lot of appreciation from senior management here," says Kutty. She also notes that she got very valuable support from Hopkins when she started at NYPA. "She solves a lot of problems. It's nice having another female engineer to work with."
Hopkins has observed many changes in the power industry over the years. "When I started I would go to a meeting and be the only female. I would notice it, but it was fine; I was just one of the guys.
"There are more women EEs now, but most are women who come from other countries like China, India and parts of Eastern Europe. When I was in Russia I was surprised to see how many women there were in EE.
"The U.S. and Canada are catching up," she says. "But being an engineer is still not universally seen as a woman's job."
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