Interview with PACWorld guru B. M. Buchholz

PAC World:  When and where were you born?
B.M.B.: I was born on November 4th 1948 in the city of Eisenach - today the geographical middle of Germany.

PAC World:  Where did you go to school?
B.M.B: I visited 3 schools in Eisenach - the first two years a school nearby, then a school for distinguished pupils in the city center and from the 9th to the 10th grade the “Ernst-Abbe-Gymnasium”. I passed my “Abitur” examination with distinction (equivalent to the British A level/American SAT exam) at the “Martin-Luther-University” Halle in a class for pupils with exceptional mathematical talents in 1967.

PAC World:  What were the things you liked to do while you were in school? 
B.M.B.:  I was active in many sports, became winner of city competitions in cycling, gymnastics or Nordic skiing. I liked to read adventure books and often fell in love with a nice girl.

PAC World:   Do you remember anything from your childhood indicating that you will become an engineer?
B.M.B.:  I became a winner of Math Olympics for pupils in the city of Eisenach and later of the whole District Halle.
The desire was born to study “cybernetics.”

PAC World:  Was there anyone in your family that had an impact on your development as a person?
B.M.B.:   I was accompanied by the love of my mother and my 6 years older sister Uschi. There was no impact on my professional development.

PAC World:  Why did you decide to become an engineer?
B.M.B:  I had success in the mathematical competitions of East Germany (GDR) and engineers have to deal a lot with mathematics.

PAC World:  Where did you go to university and how did you choose it?
B.M.B.:  After my Abitur in Halle, I had the opportunity to choose any university in the countries of the former COMECON. I chose the Moscow Power Engineering/Technical University, because it offered the course “Cybernetics” by Professor Valentin Andrejevich Venikov. His name is still worldwide known as one of the fathers of the stability theory of electric power systems.

PAC World:   Why did you decide to study electric power?
B.M.B.:   I expected to study cybernetics but it was “protection, automation & control of electric power systems.” After the second year of study I became fascinated. The Russians were leading in this area during the sixties. The university provided excellent laboratories and education.

PAC World:   What was the reason to continue your education?
B.M.B.:  I had an excellent coach for scientific works beginning from the sixth semester - Professor Eduard Nikolaevich Zuev. I passed the final examinations with distinction and was honored with a certificate for the “Best diploma thesis of the university.” I was asked to continue as a doctoral candidate and to develop methods of dimensioning superconducting cable systems in the context of electric and thermo-dynamic processes. I defended my PhD-thesis in June 1976. Since that time, I am still in friendly contact with my “doctor father” Professor Zuev and, for example, he provided useful support to proof the Russian translation of my book “Smart Grids - fundamentals and technologies”.  Furthermore - this prolongation of my stay in Moscow was a great opportunity to avoid active military services in the GDR.

PAC World:  What was your first job after graduation?
B.M.B.:  I became scientific assistant in the Institute of Energy Supply of the GDR –“IEV” in Dresden.

PAC World:  For 15 years you worked in research and development in East Germany. What were the most important projects during this period of your career?
B.M.B.:  In the first 7 years I was project manager of several network planning projects. Good opportunities to learn how the power system is operated! In 1982 I became department manager “Network automation” and the main project was the development of a digital system for combined automation, protection and control for 110-kV/MV-substations. The first implementation in practice was in March 1986 in the substation Frankenberg. Some exceptional solutions were introduced for the first time in the world - like combined protection and control, remote setting of parameters, real hot-stand-by of computer systems (< 50 ms). We brought this system to maturity for subsequent applications followed between1988-1990.
In 1987 I became director for research and development of the institute and I was involved in coaching important projects like “Digital control center of regional 110-kV-networks,” or “Transformer supervision and life time management."

PAC World:   Were there any restrictions that had an impact on your work?
B.M.B.:  The main restriction was that we had to use the hardware produced in the GDR based on 8-Bit-Processors. That was not competitive compared to the technology of the Western countries. However, the creativeness of our team could avoid a lot of difficulties, and finally we implemented many functions and progressive ideas which were not available in the substation automation systems of the western companies developed in parallel.
I had negotiations with companies from West Germany with idea - their hardware our software and ideas. However, I could not give an answer to their question: “How fast can your engineer arrive in our sites for fixing bugs?” Travelling to Western countries was extremely complicated and my team members could not travel urgently when necessary.

PAC World:  Where were you when the Wall fell in Berlin and what did you feel at the time?
B.M.B.:  I was sitting in the train from Berlin to Dresden coming from a project meeting. When I opened the door at home my wife asked laughing “Why didn’t you stay in Berlin?” It was a great relief and a feeling of luck like in a dream. Two months before I was a representative of the GDR on the World Energy Conference in Montreal. My travelling into countries of the free world was very restricted but a great privilege - possible only in the context with my position as a director of a research institute. Now the world was open - without any restrictions for all people living in the GDR. Wonderful!

PAC World:  What happened after the fall of the wall?
B.M.B.: I immediately received invitations to work with companies in West Germany. In February 1990 it was clear that the institute of energy supply will not have great perspectives in the future economic environment. We arranged a meeting with the main managers of the “Power Automation Division” of the Siemens AG in Erlangen- with the vice president for sales Henderik Veenstra and the president Dr. Harald Westerholt. They offered me the job of the development manager for digital protection and control within the division. My desire was to bring ten engineers of my team to Siemens and they agreed. I started my career with Siemens on April 1st 1990. This was like a jump from a regional league into the final game of the world cup!

PAC World:  Did you see any difference when you compared yourself with your new colleagues in the former West Germany?
B.M.B.:  I felt a good acceptance because of my scientific background and managerial qualities. My new colleagues Henderik Veenstra, Dr. Harald Westerholt and Eberhard Buurman provided great and friendly support so that I could understand the internal and external processes of the company. I learned quickly and didn’t feel any differences. My transition into the new environment was very smooth, and I am immensely grateful to these friends.

PAC World:  Was there any experience from your work in a socialist society that helped you working for a large global corporation?
B.M.B.:  In the project for our digital substation I had to coordinate the component deliveries of 15 socialist enterprises. They didn’t have any economic benefit to support our project with small numbers of electronic boards or signal adapters etc. This was a good school to develop my skills for negotiations and for successful dealings with partners. Furthermore, the employees in the socialist society were not especially rewarded for excellent work and the motivations were very often low. But, the creation of team spirit and to be proud of extraordinary results of work done, was the key to motivate hard work and developing of advanced solutions.

PAC World:  What do you consider the highlights of your time working for Siemens?
B.M.B.: We had a lot of challenges and highlights in the development of advanced systems and products like SINAUT LSA- the uniform substation automation and remote control system (until1995) or SIPROTEC 4- the complete series of IEDs for protection and control (until 1999). The IEDs of SIPROTEC 4, for example, were the worldwide first products using the communication standard IEC 61850.  After 2000 I concentrated my scientific focus on projects regarding the network integration of renewable energy sources (RES). I was involved and could coach some national and European projects on DER integration and IEC 61850. In the context of this new “hobby,” I became the German member of the CIGRE Study Committee C6 “Distribution Systems and Dispersed Generation.”


PAC World: You participated in the early stages of development of IEC 61850. How did you get involved?
B.M.B.:  Standardized communication between all levels of power system control is a significant quality of the system components and strongly required in the markets. In 1994 we received the New Work Item proposal for an ad-hoc-working group and my friends Dr. Wolfgang Schroeppel (secretary of TC57) and Gerhard Ziegler (guru of spring 2009) convinced me that I should personally take over the duty of a representative of Siemens in this working group. Despite my poor English I could play a leading role in bringing together the European and the U.S. approaches and ideas. I was editor of parts 4 and 7-4 and I enjoyed the cooperation of the international editor teams and the WGs.

PAC World:  What do you think is the role of IEC 61850 for the present and future of the PAC industry?
B.M.B:  IEC 61850 is the prospective standard for communication at all levels of the power system. I formulated this statement in many documents like the European Smart Grid Strategic Deployment Document (2008). And I was right: IEC 61850 found many extensions in new parts including also, for example, the standardization of a new SCSM in part 8-2 using web services for communication in distribution networks. Many people approached me with the sentiment: “This standard is too complicated”. They are right. However, this standard is easy to use if we take into account the availability of the independent and convenient tools for engineering, monitoring and testing. The inclusion of the substation configuration language and of the test procedures as separate parts into the standard series brought enormous benefits for simple application.

PAC World:  You have been also very actively involved for many years in the development of the Smart Grid. What is the driving force behind that?
B.M.B.:  The European Union has set ambitious targets for the increase of the shares of renewable energy in the annual energy balances. However, such targets require the enhancement of the power system as a whole. Therefore, the Commission appointed experts to join an “Advisory council for the technology platform for Europe’s electricity networks of the future”. The term and the definition of Smart Grids were firstly developed in the meetings of this team. I was an executive member of this team and could actively contribute to three fundamental documents: Smart Grid Vision (2006), Strategic Research Agenda (2007) and Strategic Deployment Document (2008). It was a surprise for me that the term “Smart Grid” became global importance.

PAC World:  You retired from Siemens in 2006. What was the reason?
B.M.B.:  In 2000 I changed my position within Siemens and became manager of the network consulting unit. Until 2004 we could extend the business twice establishing new worldwide competence centers. We reached double digit earnings. The integration of the US-company Power Technologies Inc. into the Siemens business unit “Power Technologies International” was the base for a fourfold increase of our global business. But, it was no longer possible for me to lead such a large global unit after starting dialysis procedures as a result of my inherited kidney disease.

PAC World:  After retiring from Siemens, you did not stop working - teaching, doing consulting work, being actively involved in projects. What keeps you going?
B.M.B:  It was not easy for me to leave Siemens at a point where a very successful global business was established. I had a lot of experience in scientific work and management of large projects. Therefore, it was my desire to use my skills at a lower national level. In this sense, I concluded teaching contracts with three universities and the VDE academy for professionals. I initiated the European project “Web2Energy”and took over the technical management. The goal was to introduce communication technologies based on IEC 61850 for MV distribution network control/automation, for the operation of a virtual power plant and for introduction of Smart Metering in households (in accordance with my definition of the three pillars of Smart Distribution). I was involved also as a coach in other projects like “RegModHarz” (a region supplied by renewable energy) or “Harz.EE-Mobility” and “Well2Wheel” (both are focused on supervision and control of loading processes of electric vehicles). I continued my work in the bodies of CIGRE and the EU until 2008. Furthermore, I could lead two expert teams of VDE for developing new solutions regarding the network integration of renewables - “Smart Distribution” and “Active Energy Networks.”

PAC World:  Do you see a difference between the students at the time when you were in university and the ones you teach today?
B.M.B.:  We used slide rules and we developed software in Assembler or Fortran. We printed punch cards and handed over thick packages of such cards to the reception of the computer center. Next day we received the result and that was at the beginning phase often “Division by Zero”. The bug fixing was extremely complicated. We used libraries with reference books for learning.
The students today have laptops and smart phones. All needed information they can find in the Web. However, these new tools have the potential to distract the students. The students of the past were much more enthusiastic.

PAC World:  You have written many papers and a book. What motivates you to share your knowledge and experience?
B.M.B.:  I am proud that I could share my knowledge and experience. My contributions on conferences and meetings created opportunities to get in touch with many experts and to discuss their view on different solutions. That was very helpful. My book “Smart Grids - fundamentals and technologies” appeared in German and English in March 2014. Currently the works on the Chinese and the Russian edition are ongoing. That gives me great satisfaction.

PAC World:  You have been actively involved in both IEC and CIGRE? What is your opinion about the role of these two organizations in our industry?
B.M.B:  IEC is responsible to develop international standards for all areas of the electric industry. In our global society the application of international standards is a basic requirement for successful economic solutions. In the study committees of CIGRE many details of prospective system solutions are considered including the application of standards. The experiences reached in different countries are shared. The CIGRE-conferences build an excellent platform for presenting and discussing advanced technologies and system solutions. Both international bodies play their important role like in a value chain.

PAC World:  What do you consider your most important professional achievement?
B.M.B.:  All my efforts were brought to mature products and systems with high economic efficiency. However, my last task to transform a cost center into a global acting profitable business unit was the most challenging. With the integration of the US-company PTI the new business unit “Power Technologies International” became world market leader in power system consulting, education and software for power system simulation.

PAC World:  What do you consider your most important personal achievement?
B.M.B.:  To be in friendly contact with many people of my past activities - my classmates from Eisenach, my fellow students and professors from Moscow, my colleagues of the Dresden, Nuremberg, Berlin and Erlangen times.

PAC World:  You have received different awards. Which is the one you value the most?
B.M.B.:  I received the “Golden medal of honor” of the Technical University of Wroclaw for my engagement to establish a “double diploma” for their students. That was an initiative of my friend and co-author Professor Zbigniew Styczynski. He was teaching at the “Otto-von-Guericke-University “Magdeburg. The polish students studied partly in Wroclaw and in Magdeburg. I had the opportunity to provide internship positions with Siemens and to hire some of these distinguished engineers with double diploma. The awarding ceremony was in a great academic tradition.

PAC World:  You have been married for many years. What is the secret and how do you mix your personal and professional lives?
B.M.B.:  My wife Nataly is also an electrical engineer, and she worked with the same companies as me - with IEV Dresden and with Siemens in Nuremberg. She was also frequently on business trips and it happened that we met at airports - one departing, the other arriving. When our three kids were little, we could use the excellent network of kindergartens in the GDR. We could coordinate in a way that one was available with the kids. When we moved to Bavaria in 1990 our kids were already independent young persons. We could mix our professional and personal lives by sharing the duties.

PAC World:  What is your favorite form of entertainment?
B.M.B:  Traveling to exotic countries, sightseeing at sites of cultural interests, cycle tours, opera and ballet.

PAC World:  During the communist era you were not free to travel. Now when you can do it what is your favorite place to visit?
B.M.B.:  Now we can travel a lot - about 12 travels per year: one cruise, sightseeing trips or meeting with the children families in Sydney, in New York/Boston/Chicago and in Berlin. I prepared a photo-report about our visits in 66 countries (900 pages) as a Christmas gift for Nataly. But one place we are visiting since 2013: Burgas at the Black Sea in Bulgaria. An excellent Hotel nearby to the beach and the city center with promenades and an impressive opera house. We meet there with many fellow students from Bulgaria, Russia, Latvia (now living in the USA) and Uzbekistan.

PAC World:  What is your favorite food?
B.M.B:  Uzbek plow prepared by Nataly – you tried it!

PAC World:  Do you prefer any specific kind of music?
B.M.B.:  Classical music, opera aria and chorus, jazz concert.

PAC World:  What advice do you give to the young people that you teach?
B.M.B:  Never give up, keep and extend your expertise permanently and don’t try to reach a level where you are not more competent!

PAC World:  When you look back, is there anything that you would have done differently?
B.M.B.:  Nothing. 

PAC World:  Is there any question that we should have asked you?
B.M.B:  I would like to express many thanks to my wife Nataly for 46 exciting years of love, and acting all the time, hand in hand! I am proud of my four children for their domestic bliss and professional careers: Christian (team manager in Sydney), Michaela (assistant of the board in Berlin), Larissa (professor in Chicago) and Beate (my daughter from the first marriage who is performing entertainment for kids).

PAC World:  Do you have a motto?
B.M.B.:  Meet all challenges with intelligence and team spirit! 

Relion advanced protection & control.
BeijingSifang June 2016