Tanya Panomvana

Tanya Panomvana

Making An Impact to Benefit the Community Today, and in the Future

In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month’s 2024 theme of “Advancing Leaders Through Innovation,” we recognize our AAPI members who hold leadership roles, are creating advancements in the field, and setting an example for the next generation of electrical engineers.

One such individual is Tanya Panomvana, PE, principal electrical power systems engineer at Seattle City Light, whose career has been as much a personal journey as a professional one.

A desire to make a tangible impact by solving real world problems has been the cornerstone of her work at Seattle City Light, a municipally owned public power system that generates and delivers electricity to homes, businesses, and communities in the Seattle metropolitan area.

Over the 18 years Tanya has worked at Seattle City Light, she has always sought to rise to the next level and has been promoted from assistant, associate, and senior engineering roles to the supervisory role of principal she now holds.

“One of the ways I’ve been able to do that is by acquiring new expertise by moving into different groups internally, and I’m grateful to have had those opportunities,” she said. “At the end of the day, I came back to distribution engineering because it’s the area I enjoy the most because there’s so much variation in the work. Our customers have different needs and there are always different ways to go about designing the distribution system while keeping in mind what is best for our system overall. Even the jobs you think are simple often are not.”

As society moves to sustainable energy such as solar generation and electric vehicles (EVs), Tanya noted that there is a concerted effort within utilities to adapt to the changes.

“It’s advancing quickly and we’re learning as we go,” she said. “Right now, we’re looking at how solar generation impacts the distribution grid. Every time a residence installs solar, we review the application and make sure it doesn’t cause a negative impact by checking for voltage rise on the transformer. This can negatively impact other customers receiving their power from that same transformer. At the same time, we’re looking at different processes and developing a blueprint for going forward.”

She continued, “EVs add a significant amount of load to the distribution system. We are constantly upgrading transformers and it can be challenging, especially in a dense city like Seattle, to serve all the properties that have EVs in – for example – areas with only one transformer. So again, we’re looking at the process and adapting as we go. It’s an exciting time in the field with how fast things are moving and how much technology has evolved.”

A member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) PES (Power & Energy Society) since she began working at Seattle City Light, Tanya has jumped into volunteer mode full force this year by heading up the planning for the 2024 General Meeting in Seattle this July.

“I’ve always wanted to be more involved so when this opportunity came up, I knew I wanted to help. I’m working with a great committee of people in the Seattle area who are working on different parts of the conference, and they’ve done so much I feel like I have the easy job. It’s been a great opportunity and I’m already looking forward to continuing my involvement in the future.”

Taking on this type of volunteer role demonstrates just how far Tanya has come.

“I’ve never done anything like it before, but I thought it would be a good challenge for me,” she explained. “As a little girl growing up, I’m not sure I ever saw myself as a leader. It took me a while to grow into one.”

Taking a moment to reflect on her journey, Tanya noted that the accomplishment she is most proud of isn’t a single project but getting to where she is today.

“The position I’m in now is what I’ve always strived for. When I first started in the utility industry, I felt very unseen at times,” she said. “Over time, that feeling lessened, and I want people to know that if you dedicate yourself to something and enjoy your work you will be recognized.”

Looking to the future, Tanya is looking forward to taking on new challenges and growing into more advanced leadership roles.

“It’s been a surprising journey. I don’t know what I envisioned when I said I wanted to be an engineer. I don’t know that I would have thought I’d end up at a utility for so long. I still feel like I’m a new engineer sometimes,” she said. “I’d like to tell young female engineers to not be afraid to seek your path, take the journey you want to and learn from it every step of the way. Whatever you want to do, it’s all possible.”