How One Engineer’s Passion Led Her to Help Usher in a New Era of the Power Industry
As we at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power & Energy Society (PES) celebrate Asian American Heritage Month, we honor the many Asian Americans who have contributed, influenced, and enriched our culture and society.
One such person is Hong Chen, PhD, who set her sights on a career in power engineering 35 years ago.
“Everyone needs electricity,” she said.
A PES Governing Board Member – Vice President, Technical Activities – and Principal Engineer at PJM Interconnection LLC, Hong has over 30 years’ experience within the power industry and has expertise in a variety of power system operations and analysis, including state estimation, transmission network analysis, load forecasting, transient stability, and voltage stability. Her current research interests include electricity market operation, and operation risk assessment and mitigation. Prior to joining PJM, she was a Principal Analyst in Electricity Market Development at ISO New England.
At IEEE PES, she has been an active author and editor of peer-reviewed publications. She was the Chair of the IEEE Power System Operations Committee from 2015 to 2016, and founding Chair of IEEE’s Power Systems Operation, Planning and Economics Committee in 2017.
Hong grew up in China and did her undergraduate and graduate work at Southeast University in Nanjing, where she received a BE and ME in power systems. Upon graduating, Hong spent more than three years working at a research institute developing software for utilities but felt she needed to go deeper with her studies. In 1998, she was accepted to the University of Waterloo’s Electrical and Computer Engineering PhD program. While there, she won first place in a poster contest at IEEE PES’ 2001 Winter Meeting in Columbus, OH.
“I joined IEEE PES in 1998 when I was a PhD student,” Hong explained. “It was eye opening for me to go to meetings and talk to people from many different places. Earning first place in that competition was such a big encouragement for me and was the start of my involvement with the organization that I consider my professional home. I have my day job, but my nights and weekends are all dedicated to PES.”
As VP of Technical Activities, Hong set a series of important goals that are meant to have far-reaching impacts – some quite literally.
“PES is a global organization, and we have 17 technical committees and four coordinating committees, but there is a perception that because much of the activity comes from North America that is where our focus lies,” she said. “This is not the case and we have set out to attract more members and activity from our regions all over the world. We have been encouraging members to hold meetings both virtually as well as in regions that, historically, have not previously hosted often or perhaps ever.”
Other goals include increasing industry involvement and attracting young professionals.
“There’s a big workforce shortage in the power field so our goal is to attract young engineers into technical activities because they are the future of the industry,” she said.
During her long tenure within the field, Hong has contributed toward electricity market design and operation through benchmarking projects at RTO/ISO, such as Perfect Dispatch at PJM, security constrained unit commitment, energy and reserve market co optimization, locational marginal price calculation and auditing, etc. With broad engagement in power grid control room operation, Hong has also been exploring the theory and practices on the equilibrium of economic efficiency and power grid risk mitigation and chaired an IEEE Task Force on this topic.
“I’m passionate about my research and the work I’m doing around power grid operation. I feel my work is important to society because the power grid is considered the most critical infrastructure,” she explained.
Another of Hong’s passions is to actively engage young professionals at a time when other fields may be clamoring for their attention. She understands this well because when she was a PhD student, computer engineering was widely sought, and she received advice to consider changing her focus.
“At that time, not many students wanted to do power field research and many of my colleagues changed from power to computers because it was easier to get a job. Some encouraged me to switch but I have passion for the power industry,” she said.
According to Hong, today, all that has changed.
“It’s exciting to be in the power field now, as it is undergoing many transformational changes: transition to clean and sustainable energy, high penetration of inverter-based resources, energy storage, electrification, and grid edge technologies – just to name a few. The power industry is playing a key role in combating climate change, facilitating de-carbonization, decentralization, and digitization. It’s more interdisciplinary and its relevance has increased, especially among young people. Young people care about climate change, and they can play an important role and feel a sense of purpose. They want to change the world.”
She stresses the importance of stimulating young engineers’ excitement and linking that zeal with real-world implementation.
“When we talk and I hear things like, ‘I’m doing quantum computing or AI,’ I feel very excited and want to emphasize using these new technologies to solve real-world challenges. The new ideas coming from the field are so promising.”
Hong has come a long way from being a new undergraduate student whose love of math, physics, and chemistry led her to choose a major from a list of department names that seemed to click with her goals and interests.
“Some may say it was by chance, but I had the ability to choose my field of interest 35 years ago and I truly love my work. Now it’s my turn to give back and mentor young professionals and encourage them to join IEEE PES. I try to use my industry experience to help them navigate from theoretical projects to ones that address the challenges and opportunities of today.”