Interview with PACWorld Guru John Boyle

PAC World:  When and where were you born?
J.B.: I was born on November 4, 1927 in a Brooklyn, NY hospital.

PAC World:  Where did you grow up and where did you go to school?
J.B.: I grew up on Long Island in the small town of Bellrose, one mile north of the Belmont race track and three miles south of the Sperry Gyroscope plant in the city of Lake Success.

PAC World:  Did you have any specific interests while in school? 
J.B.:  While in high school I was interested in chemistry. My father built a wooden floor platform in the basement of our house to keep me off a damp dirt floor. On the platform, I built an elaborate chemistry set that contained a lot of test tubes, vials of acid etc. I also built model airplanes that I flew outside in vacant lots. Most of the planes were towline gliders (I could not afford motor driven planes) that were pulled with a long string and then released.

PAC World:   Can you think of someone in your childhood that influenced your decision to become an engineer?
J.B.:  My father had the greatest influence on my becoming an engineer. He concluded, and rightly so, that I would not be a good lawyer, doctor, accountant etc. It was he that decided that I should go to Duke University, because he thought it was a good school. He later confided in me that he also chose that school to get me away from my mother. He reasoned that at some time in his life a young man had to get away from the influence of an over loving mother.

PAC World:  Why did you study electrical engineering?
J.B.:   When I first attended Duke University, I was in general Engineering. In my sophomore year I decided that I preferred the electrical engineering discipline over civil, or mechanical engineering.

PAC World:  Did you study protection in the university?
J.B.:  I did not take a protection engineering class at Duke University because it was not offered as a standalone course. I did not take a “protection” class at the University of Tennessee when I pursued a master’s degree, because at that time, I was working for TVA and was well into the protection aspect of the business.
As a side note, eight TVA employees arranged to take the masters course after work in Knoxville TN, and it took four years to complete. Once a week we drove to Knoxville at five o’clock in the afternoon, attended the class and then drove home. We usually arrived home at 11 pm.
I decided to continue my education because I thought it might enhance my career in TVA. This may have proven to be true because eventually I became head of the Protection section.

PAC World:  How did you start your career? Why did you select TVA?
J.B.:  Jobs were not plentiful when I graduated from Duke University. I looked at three job sites. Westinghouse, a paper company, and TVA. Westinghouse was not readily available, the paper company smelled bad and had 25 cycle lighting which caused annoying light flicker (except in the CEO’s office). TVA put me through a six months training class before releasing me to new construction sites where I tested protective equipment and oversaw the installation of new substations and generating plants.

PAC World:   What was the main difference in the work process when you started and when you retired?
J.B.:  I worked for TVA for 40 years and the biggest change in protection was the advent of solid state relays and digital relays. Sometimes a change created confusion. For example: an operator at a new substation was asked to check the contacts of newly installed static relays to be “open” (which was a common request for electro-mechanical relays). After considerable time searching, he informed the dispatcher that he could not find any “contacts”. The solid-state relays were not without additional problems.
TVA, in its infinite wisdom, had installed electro-mechanical relays as the second set of protection, and it was the only protection available while the static relays were out of service.

PAC World:  What was the most challenging project for you while at TVA?
J.B.:  Oddly enough, the most challenging project, and the most rewarding, was my work at Kentucky Dam. The dam was near the atomic energy project at Paducah Kentucky, and all 161 kV breakers had to be upgraded to withstand the increased fault current duty. Also, all protection had to be changed.
This meant rewiring and testing every relay panel and building a temporary wooden panel equipped with relays to replace every working panel. There were 10 or more working panels. All the new panels were rewired, and the relays tested before we were able to move on to the next panel. I hope you can appreciate that all work outages had to be done at off hours. Therefore, I spent many nights at the plant and was always tired. I was at the plant for over a year before the job was finished. I felt that I had touched every wire in the plant, and when I left I was convinced that the plant could not continue to run without me. I was wrong. The plant is still in operation.

PAC World:  After retiring from TVA you started a consulting company. What was the reason to do that?
J.B.:  When I retired, Jack Fish, another retired engineer, and I started a company called PSA (Power Systems Analysis) because we considered ourselves too young to retire. We had many clients, including Bowater Paper Company, which was one of our biggest clients. We set their entire plant up on a computer to run load flow studies and fault studies which was time consuming because computers, at that time, were very slow and the programs available to us were all in dos. We also had international clients. I taught a power protection course in Jakarta, Indonesia. In Nigeria I was commissioned to locate suitable sites to locate standalone water pumping and electrical facilities to supply small home sites.
I also served, and still serve, as an expert witness in numerous legal cases.

PAC World:  You have a lot of interest in the analysis of power system events and protection operations. How did you develop this interest?
J.B.:  I developed an interest in the analysis of power system events when I was a field test engineer. I was required to develop oscillograms to help analyze and resolve system problems. The biggest advantage of this analysis was that it helps put all events in a proper time sequence. When breakers operated, when relays operated, when faults were initiated, when faults were cleared and when the magnitude of currents became known, all became relevant and important. Event reports also play a key role in the analysis of any event. Couple this information with the ability to run fault studies supporting current magnitudes and durations and voltage deviations were all vitally important to the overall analysis.
When teaching at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin with Arun Phadke, I found that I was able to supply oscillograms that would support his theoretical concepts. For example: when he developed a DC offset, I had ocillograms to support that concept. When he theorized on CT saturation, I had ocillograms to show that concept also. In fact, I thought this method of “Tell and Show” was a wonderful way to help students understand power system aberrations.

PAC World:  You have been teaching power system protection in the US and abroad. Is there a difference in the students?
J.B.: I have taught students in the US and abroad and found that the students abroad were less inclined to ask questions. This may have been my fault because the students may not have understood me because of my accent. Frequently I was asked to speak slower and louder. Subject matter made a significant difference in the audience participation. For example, I presented a talk on poor relay performance and design concepts. In this case study of a real event, 7 people died, and 25 people were severely injured.  Also, 3 people were sent to prison because relays were set wrong or operating procedures where not followed. That case study really generated a lot of interest.

PAC World:  What do you think about the importance of participation in working groups?
J.B.:  Participating in working groups is very important. However, I have reservations about people that belong to too many working groups. I believe that it is much better to be active in a few working groups than to be inactive in several working groups. However, now that I am older, the few meetings that I can attend are done to keep up with modern technology and concepts.

PAC World:  You have been involved with the Georgia Tech Protective Relaying Conference for half a century. What do you think is the role of these conferences in our industry and why is it important for practicing engineers to participate in conferences?
J.B.:  An important part of my career was my work of many years with the Georgia Tech Relay conference. I felt that it was an effective way to hobnob with very knowledgeable people in the industry. During the first talk that I gave at the conference, I made use of overhead projectuals or transparencies. I was very nervous. When I first arrived at Atlanta I was met by a young man named Harry Boyle (no relationship). His job was to make sure that everyone knew about this new visual concept, and he wanted to make sure that I did it correctly. He wined and dined me at the Kings Inn in Atlanta (it may not exist now) and then set up a huge screen at an angle to eliminate the parallax effect. I did not tell him that this was my first talk and that I was going to be very nervous.
Then, as you might expect, when I got up on the stage to start my presentation, I froze. However, when I looked out in the audience I spotted my boss. He immediately realized my dilemma and gave me a thumbs-up and I started to speak. Now I realize that whenever I give a presentation and I don’t know what to say, I flip to the next slide.

PAC World:  What is the greatest challenge you faced during your professional career?
J.B.:  Challenges abound in any profession. My greatest one was the ability to finish a job on time. I would like to include within budget, but I rarely faced a budget problem. Someone else would face a budget problem if I did not get the settings to a field test engineer in a timely manner. Whenever I was given a job to provide relay settings, I had to consider present and future settings. I also had to include various outage conditions to determine load flow and fault current changes. These types of problems don’t exist today because of computers and good software programs. But in early days I had to use a DC board that had to be configured with telephone type jacks that were used to configure transmission line impedances, generator impedances, transformer impedances etc.   Bear in mind that the DC board had to be shared with approximately 15 other engineers, all wanting to meet the same type of deadline I was facing. To run all the studies needed to set protective devices, I developed a 3 to 4-inch loose leaf note book that contained all the scenarios that I could think of. Consider that I also had to think of the apparent impedances of all lines and generators connected to my area of interest.
And then the biggest disappointment came after I had relinquished the DC board to the next impatient engineer, only to find out that I needed to run another study. Those were indeed the biggest challenges I faced early in my carrier. When I became head of the Protection Section, I had to be concerned about the people that I supervised. This was indeed disturbing when I got a call from field personnel complaining that they had not received any settings from one of my employees.

PAC World:  You have received many awards. Which one do you consider the most important to you?
J.B.: My career also brought a major surprise. The award that I consider the most important to me was the IEEE Life Fellow award. However, the award that was the biggest surprise to me was the National Engineer of the Year award. I was attending an engineering meeting in the western part of the country and my boss instructed me to leave the meeting and attend another meeting in Washington DC. I argued with him because I felt that the meeting I was attending was more important. He insisted that I leave that meeting and come to the one in Washington.

PAC World:  What do you think about the impact of renewable energy resources on the electric power system and its protection?
J.B.:  Changes in the industry are always fascinating and renewable energy is just one of the current changes. The impact of renewable energy on the grid is small and I don’t believe that it will have a significant impact on utilities to meet the utilities power requirements. However, I do believe it has relevance in specific application. For example; solar panels can be installed on roof tops and not impact land use. However, if a sizeable number of homes install roof top solar panels, utilities will have to adjust to the decrease in load.

PAC World:  What is your opinion about the future of nuclear power as clean energy?
J.B.:  Another energy alternative is the nuclear power. I am bullish about the future of nuclear power because you get a big bang for your buck with nuclear. I realize that there is an inherent danger with nuclear power, but I think it is minimal. The accident at Three Mile Island was bad, but it failed in a safe manner. Chernobyl was a disaster, but its carbon block technology is not used in this country, and the boiling water and ice containment concepts used in the US appear to be relatively safe. They are designed to “fail safe.”  Also, what else can one do with nuclear energy? It is well suited for the job of producing power and reduces the need to use coal for power.

PAC World:  How do you see the future of our industry?
J.B.:  I think the future of our industry is bright because there is nothing in the foreseeable that can replace it. Utilities will not have large load demands that require large generators. Increased generation demands are already being supplemented with gas turbines. I don’t appreciate politics entering the utility business. I believe that utilities are better managed when governed by engineers that know the business. Some small utilities will probably be absorbed by larger utilities because of their capacity to have on board engineering to analyze and run the utility in an efficient manner.

PAC World:  What do you consider your greatest personal achievement?
J.B.:  My greatest personal achievement was working at a job that I loved and finding happiness later in life.

PAC World:  What do you like to do when you are not working?
J.B.:  I enjoy working with wood. I have not built anything lately, but I do plan to start something soon. My favorite type of wood is cherry. I like walnut, but it is not very forgiving. Small items made of wood, like trivets, make nice gifts and the recipients seem to appreciate them. I hope that sizable items, like clocks that I build, will be a reminder to grandchildren, or great grandchildren that some old codger related to them built it.
My favorite past time endeavor in my younger days was hiking and boating. I hiked the Appalachian trail in Tennessee on numerous occasions and stayed at an old lodge in the top of Mount LeConte many times with my family and the young people at the church.

PAC World:  You travel a lot all over the world. Do you have a favorite place?
J.B.:  My favorite place to visit is Bruges, Belgium. I loved the quaintness of the town and the church tower with the old clock and the huge music drum that played every hour. The single knotted rope ladder was a challenge, but it added to its mystic. As a side note, Belgium is known for its exquisite chocolates.

PAC World:  Do you have favorite music?
J.B.:  I enjoy classical music. Now I listen to Mozart each night on my Alexa which I recently purchased.

PAC World:  What is your favorite food?
J.B.:  My favorite food is smoked salmon. Next is chocolate. Perhaps chocolate is not a food!

PAC World:  Do you have a motto?
J.B.:  I have a motto, or perhaps it is more precisely called a meditation. It appealed to me when I first read it because it addresses my concern that I may be too forceful in some endeavors but at the same time asking my friends to recognize some of my frailties.
Release me from trying to straighten out everyone’s affairs. Make me thoughtful, but not moody, helpful but not overbearing. I have a certain amount of knowledge to share; still it would be very nice to have a few friends who, at the end, recognized and forgave the knowledge I lacked
 I have often wondered how one measures success at the end of one’s life. In my case I have never considered myself successful, but more fortunate to have worked in a profession that I enjoyed.

PAC World:  Is there anything that you would like to share?
J.B.: Family has always touched my heart. My early years, working long hours away from home, were not easy for me or my wife, Connie Stulce. I owe so much to her for my happiness, as well as, for her loving management of our children and our home. We were married for forty-three years, and her unexpected death, following a kidney transplant, was a loss beyond measure. My children and their families are a constant joy. My son Greg, and my daughter, Debbie Glasscock, live in Chattanooga, TN. My daughter, Karen Mongan, lives in Houston, TX.
My wife Jane and I have been married sixteen years now, and she tells me that the real reason she married me was her love for my children.  It can’t get much better than that. Life has been good to me.

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