ECE Perspectives: Abdullah Al-Digs, Power System Studies Consultant

“My industry and graduate research experiences focus on developing real-time tools to operate future power systems reliably and economically… I firmly believe that my research is vital to enabling wide integration of renewable energy.”

Abdullah Al-Digs graduated from ECE with a BASc in Electrical Engineering in 2015, and with a PhD in Electrical Engineering in 2021.  Following graduation, he’s begun as a Power System Studies Consultant at PSC Power Systems Consultants. While at ECE, Abdullah studied power systems analysis, developing an expertise in the subject that he’ll now take into his work in the industry.

We spoke to Abdullah to learn about his research in power and energy systems, and how this focus area has taken him from his studies at ECE to his current work in the industry.

What is your current position? What kinds of work do you do?

I am currently a power system studies consultant at PSC North America. In this role, I am involved in the various stages of generation interconnection studies within the PJM power system. Specifically, I develop and test models for renewable generation units such as solar plants, battery energy storage, and wind turbines. These models are then used to perform system impact studies, which serves to ensure the reliable and secure operation of the power system.

How did you find this job (through interviewing, networking, etc.)? What was the process of getting the job like?

I was fortunate enough to know someone who works at PSC North America and referred me to the company following my Ph.D. degree graduation.

The hiring process differs slightly between different companies- however, most job hunts will involve between two to three interviews in the industry. The timeline also varies significantly between different companies for them to make hiring decisions. Overall, I learned that it’s important to reach out to people through networking platforms such as LinkedIn. I was surprised by the responses I received and how my network connections were willing to provide advice and share their industry insights.

What has your career path been like so far?

My career path starting point was acquiring a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Electrical Engineering in the power and energy systems option from UBC in 2015. I then pursued a Ph.D. degree in power systems at UBC which I completed in 2021. During my six years of graduate studies, I was involved in many research projects that led to several publications and awards.

I discovered my passion for teaching and served as a teaching assistant for several undergraduate- and graduate-level power system courses, and in recognition of my contributions to teaching and student learning, I received the prestigious Killam Graduate Teaching Assistant Award in 2019.

Shortly after completing my graduate studies, I joined PSC North America as a power system studies consultant where I currently perform generation interconnection studies in the PJM power system.

How does your career path and graduate experience connect to your current position?

Modern electric power systems are undergoing dramatic changes due to heterogeneity in electricity sources, such as energy-storage devices, fuel cells, and renewable generation.

Renewable generation introduces levels of variability and uncertainty that are unprecedented in conventional power systems. These special circumstances require the development of analytically tractable and computationally efficient operational schemes for integrating existing systems with emerging electricity generation technologies. Such schemes will help to achieve reliable, cost-effective, and robust electrical power systems with improved system stability, efficiency, and environmental footprint.

My industry and graduate research experiences focus on developing real-time tools to operate future power systems reliably and economically. Specifically, I focus on controlling and predicting post-contingency dynamic transmission-line flows, estimation of feasible active-power nodal injections, and frequency response design. As such, I firmly believe that my research is vital to enabling wide integration of renewable energy generation and preventing severe system-wide failures.

 Additionally, my research has the potential to provide tools for power system operators to address severe operational reliability issues in real-time. Realization of this research will enable practical advancements in power system operation and control, which will help to accommodate renewable generation technologies, enhance system responsiveness, and optimize asset utilization, thus bringing us closer to the Smart Grid vision.

What do you enjoy most about this line of work?

I am most excited about contributing to the transition of the power industry towards renewable and more sustainable alternative energy sources. This paradigm shift from a system dominated by high-inertia fossil fuel-based generators to one with low-inertia renewable energy sources presents its unique challenges. However, the excitement for me lies in the challenge of developing new operational schemes and tools to accommodate this necessary transformation.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for a student interested in entering the industry in your field?

Although a graduate degree is not required to enter our industry, it is certainly preferred in many companies. A graduate degree allows you to refine your skillset and contribute to the field in a greater capacity with the knowledge acquired from state-of-the-art research performed during your studies.

Find Abdullah on Linkedin or at his personal site.