Looking Beyond Oneself – How One Power Engineer is Shaping a Legacy by Encouraging Tomorrow’s Engineers
During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power & Energy Society (PES) celebrate the achievements and contributions of Asian and Pacific Americans within our community.
One such individual is Chan Wong, PhD – current PES Governing Board Member – Strategic Communications & Partnerships – who has succeeded in pulling off a rare feat: remaining humble in the midst of a career punctuated by laudable successes in the power and energy fields. Yet despite his many accomplishments, Chan is quick to deflect attention away from himself and onto his colleagues.
Chan was born and raised in Malaysia, he received his Bachelor and Master of Electrical Engineering and Master of Business Administration at Tulane University. Further, he received his PhD in Automotive Engineering from Clemson University.
Chan was introduced to IEEE when he was an undergraduate student at Tulane University. His involvement was minimal by necessity as his sole focus was on his studies and attaining his degree.
“At that time, my goal was to get my degree as soon as possible,” he said. “I’m from Malaysia, and my mother had to sell her house so I could study here, so I couldn’t afford any distractions.”
He was bitten by what he called the “IEEE bug” in 2014 when he was representing the New Orleans IEEE Section to attend IEEE’s Sections Congress in Amsterdam where members of IEEE-USA were discussing the launch of what was to become the first IEEE Future Leaders Forum.
In a case of being in the right place at the right time, Chan was able to secure Tulane University as the location for the conference on the spot.
“I was just a young bee in IEEE at the time,” he explained. “I was brought into a room where they were discussing this new, fun event for young professionals and they needed a place to host with a dorm. I used to work in one of the dormitories in Tulane University and was able to reach out to one of the Housing Administration staff and sent her a text and received a reply almost instantly saying it would be no problem.”
The conference, which was held in 2016 at Tulane and featured internet pioneer Vint Cerf as the keynote speaker, ended up being a huge success and marked the start of Chan’s involvement with major IEEE and PES events over the years. In 2019, Chan received an award from IEEE-USA in recognition of his passion for fostering industry partnerships and grooming young leaders. At the same time, his effort was recognized by Past IEEE President Jim Jefferies at the IEEE Sections Congress at Sydney in 2017.
A “big picture thinker,” Chan, who is the Director of Innovation and Transformation at Cybirical, an engineering firm that specializes in developing digital and cyber solution for the power grid, specializes in areas related to energy storage, data analytics, cybersecurity and digital substation. Before working for Cybirical, Chan spent more than 10 years working at Entergy, an electric and gas utility in New Orleans, where he held multiple technical and management roles in transmission, smart grid, and grid modernization organization.
During his years at Entergy, Chan worked in multiple roles and responsibilities bringing innovation and state-of-the-art automotive and manufacturing automation practice into the utility space.
“They called me the ‘dreamer,’” Chan explained. In 2014, when Chan was working within Entergy’s Transmission Engineering Department, he led a team of research and development engineers and vendors to proof test an industry standard – IEC 61850. The goal of the project was to explore alternatives to improve the resiliency and sustainability of the transmission grid and determine how to digitize the analog system of the substation with newer and smarter technology. Given that the demography of New Orleans is prone to hurricanes and their impact, implementing a digital substation would assist in the grid restoration process.
“I started the project as a hobby, which later sparked interest for young engineers within the department,” he explained. “Within two years, we were able to deploy one of the earliest multivendor interoperable process bus systems in the utility industries to prove the interoperability of the devices based on IEC 61850 while meeting the industry-recommended cyber security standard and requirements.”
He continued, “We became the industry leaders in pioneering the IEC 61850 digital substation and shared our success story within the utility world with the goal of continuing to spearhead this digital substation technology and demonstrate that not only could it be safely implemented where all vendors are interoperated, but also cyber-secured.”
In addition, Chan co-hosted the first north America Utility Communication Architecture (UCA) interoperable test in New Orleans in 2017, which was attended by 38 companies around the world to proof test the interoperability and cybersecurity requirement of a digital substation.
When asked if he prefers power over energy or vice versa, Chan was quick to point out that what is important to him is not the type of work, but the impact.
“I don’t have a preference,” he said. “To me, it’s not about what I like to do, it’s about the deliverables, making an impact on the community, and inspiring the next generation.”
Inspiring the next generation is something Chan takes very seriously, and he’s been doing it since he was an up and comer himself.
“The influence of these conferences has been impactful,” he said. “We have heard from attendees that they have helped them think differently and motivated them to do more for themselves and the community.”
Chan’s involvement with PES began when he first joined the utility world, and he recently moderated a Super Session at IEEE PES’s inaugural Grid Edge Technologies Conference & Expo in San Diego.
“Grid Edge was formed to introduce new technologies like storage technology, AI, and EV charging and stimulate the entrepreneur mindset for students to add values to the industry,” Chan said. “It’s been a lot of fun to work on. We have all sorts of new technology being showcased and presenters have included leaders from Google, Amazon, and Microsoft sharing their decarbonization efforts.”
One of the things Chan most enjoys about the power field now is how integrated it has become.
“The new era of power engineering is a mix of multiple professionals from different disciplines. In the field today we have data scientists, cyber security, energy trading experts, environmentalist and power engineers all working together,” he said.
This kind of integration, as well as new forms of technology, are drawing young professionals to the power field; however, Chan cautioned that more needs to be done to attract them into the energy sector.
Chan is excited about the direction the power field is going in and his involvement with initiatives meant to motivate young professionals also continue to motivate him.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a role model. I’m always learning together with my peers,” he said. “In IEEE and PES, we’re all continuous learners. This is very motivating and causes you to want to aim higher yourself.”