Interview with PACWorld guru Eric Udren

PAC World:  When and where were you born?
E.U.: Philadelphia, PA, USA, 1947. I grew up in this large city, moving right into the center of it in 1960.  I left for university in 1965 and never returned to stay, but always loved and will always seek the life and humanity of exciting cities.

PAC World:  Where did you go to school?
E.U.: Central High School, Philadelphia, BA, 1965. Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, BSEE, 1969. Cambridge University, UK, Certificate of Post Graduate Study in Engineering, 1978. New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, NJ, MSEE, 1981.

PAC World:  What interests did you have in school? 
E.U.:  Amateur radio (Licensed K3SGT since 1961.)
Automobile mechanics. Television, radio, and electronics repair (source of income in Junior High and High School.

PAC World:   Is there anyone in your family that you feel had an impact on your development as a person?
E.U.:  As a person developing up to age 20, I’ll claim to be self-made.  Of course I have to keep reworking and improving what I made up, to the present day and beyond.

PAC World:  What made you decide to study electrical engineering?
E.U.:   I think it was genetic.  As a child, I got into the habit of disassembling appliances in our home.  I developed the ability to get even the complicated ones apart.  Later, I became proficient at getting them back together.  With reading to understand their workings, and a lot of experimentation, I developed the skills of repairing them and optimizing their performance.  I spun this into my principle source of income as a teenager.  I lived in a high-rise apartment building where I was the resident television and radio repair person.  I had a good business week if someone’s black-and-white vacuum tube television needed a new picture tube (CRT).  Although I could deal with all electrical appliances, I focused on communications and electronics as I discovered and pursued amateur radio.  My secondary passion was high fidelity and stereophonic music reproduction, which connected well with my love of classical music acquired in childhood.

PAC World:  How did you choose the university to go to?
E.U:  I was lucky to make the grade of National Merit Scholarship finalist in an amazing high school which, in my test year of 1964, beat the Bronx [New York] High School of Science for greatest number of finalists.  Michigan State University, which had outstanding professors in electronics and communications systems, had an aggressive program for enlisting National Merit finalists.  Michigan was far from the home I knew and seemed exotic - I grabbed the opportunity, and have been thankful for it ever since.  As with every other big life decision - I would have had a different career path, different spouse, and different family had I not made this choice.

PAC World:  Where and how did you start your career?
E.U.:  When I graduated in 1969, the EE job market was excellent.  I chose the Westinghouse opportunity and I have been thankful for this decision ever since.
After accepting this offer - in one whirlwind week of September 1969, I graduated MSU in East Lansing, Michigan; married Barb in Battle Creek, Michigan; honeymooned in Toronto; and reported for work at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh. The first trial assignment was at the Relay Division in downtown Newark, New Jersey - a gritty industrial city not experiencing its best times in 1969.

PAC World:   What was it like to work with George Rockefeller on the development of the first digital protection system?
E.U.:   George was already the industry leader we know, recognized within Westinghouse and across the utility industry.  He had invented relaying concepts embodied in some of the most advanced conventional relays of that time (with principles still in use).  George was the technical lead in an application support team that also included Walter Elmore, Walter Hinman, Roger Ray, and Hung-Jen “Hank” Li - all legendary industry experts.  They were all happy to diagram answers to questions I would bring them.
George had already published his pioneering conception of protective relays based on digital computers in the IEEE Transactions two years before, but was driven to actually demonstrate it.  In 1969, Westinghouse Relay Division gave him a budget for the technology demonstration that led to the installation of Prodar 70 at PG&E Tesla Substation in 1971.  I appeared in the plant just when George was looking for a new engineer to focus on the detailed programming work.  This was an amazing stroke of luck for me.
Coming from an education in communications systems and electronics, protective relaying of power systems was a big mountain to climb, especially since I had to write machine code and assembly language to perform the job of transmission line relaying in real time on 1970 industrial-grade process control computer hardware.  With plenty of help from George and the rest of the application team, I learned it - and proceeded to learn and support application of many other types of relays for years after Prodar 70 went in service.

PAC World:   Why and how did you go to Cambridge University and what was your research there?
E.U.:  I was fortunate to win the B.G. Lamme Scholarship from Westinghouse in 1977. At Cambridge, I pursued a project that merged power systems and data communications in an interesting way - developing designs for transmitting baseband data streams over power transmission lines at rates of several hundred kilobits per second.  Of course, I had to invoke all aspects of relaying carrier application along with data communications and electronic design to get a workable scheme. 
I developed these ideas in 1977, when there had been no discussion of broadband power line carrier.
PAC World:  Later you got MSEE from New Jersey Institute of Technology. What was the reason to do that?
E.U.:  I began the NJIT MSEE night classes in 1975.  I took a break in 1977 for the Cambridge study and finished after my return.

PAC World:  You have many contributions to the field of electric power systems protection and control. Which are the ones that you consider the most important?
E.U.:  I’m proud of the role I played in the world’s first computer relay, Prodar 70; but the full honor of conception and creation goes to George Rockefeller.
1978 saw the start of the next big effort - development of the world’s first integrated protection and control system using a local-area network (LAN) in place of wired connections among the zone relaying packages.  I was the technical lead for the protection design and a system architect. This system included the first merging unit, digitizing measurements in the switchyard, controlling breakers, and connecting to an early process bus via optical fibers. Another innovation that performed beautifully was the integration of a magneto-optic current transducer (MOCT) with a microprocessor transmission line relay, at Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1990.  T. W. Cease was the TVA pioneer who supported this work; I engineered the integration with a microprocessor relay. 

In 2004, I developed the complete P&C design and strategy for a major transmission utility based on Ethernet communicating IEDs and IEC 61850 GOOSE.  That design included condition monitoring as the primary maintenance approach. When FERC told NERC to develop a new relay maintenance standard based on TBM, I joined the NERC System Protection and Control Task Force to lead the project that developed the Technical Reference that served as the basis for the new standard.  Along with the time intervals and requirements for conventional unmonitored relays that require TBM, we defined the design requirements for a condition-based maintenance (CBM) approach that could eliminate most or all time-based testing.  We also included in the Reference a performance-based maintenance (PBM) program that could be used to justify extended maintenance time intervals for conventional but proven reliable relay types with low failure rates.  I also served on the NERC drafting team that created the standard. 

In the 2007-2008 time frame, experts working with Southern California Edison Company hatched the concept of implementing multiple remedial action schemes (RASs) on a big centralized processor, communicating by IEC 61850 GOOSE with monitoring or measuring and mitigating or tripping relays in substations across a large stressed transmission system.  Leaders were Pat Arons, SCE Planning Manager; and Herb Falk, IEC 61850 expert from SISCO.  I got the opportunity to flesh out details and define the specifications as the technical lead for a team that was to bring the idea from concept to construction project during 2010-2011.  I stayed with that development during most of its execution. 

PAC World:   You have been involved with the IEEE PES Power System Relaying Committee for more than 40 years. What do you think about its role in our industry and your professional growth?
E.U.:  It’s stating the obvious to point out that PSRC is central to advancement of the protection technology, business, and to my own career.  North America’s protection and control experts and leaders have met at PSRC meetings for over 80 years to write technical standards for the industry, and application guidance for practicing protection engineers.  It’s been the forum for face-to-face exchange of experiences and development of relationships.  In the last two decades, there has been a notable increase in international participation at PSRC.               
On two occasions, in the late 1980s and again in 2008-2014, I have had the leadership role for the Relaying Communications Subcommittee.

PAC World:   You have been involved in the transition from electromechanical and solid state relays to digital protection and control devices and systems. What do you think about the transition to IEC 61850?
E.U.: Many PACworld readers are participants in the development of IEC 61850, as I have been since its 1995 outset.  Others are developers of products, and there are many users here, as well as the non-users. 
A modern IEC 61850 installation is difficult to support unless the equipment designers, system specifiers, and integrators have worked together to incorporate three critical ingredients - inherent functional monitoring in the operational design of functions to keep track of all the exchanges and system behavior that can’t be easily tested; multiple layers of clear documentation to help the user understand the process of determining the cause of a problem; and a set of configuration and test tools that can coordinate with the documentation and are easy to use. 

PAC World:  You are beyond the retirement age but still fully employed. Can you imagine retiring?
E.U.:  If you mean leaving behind most of what I am doing…I don’t get excited about the prospect.  Our industry has never seen such dramatic and exciting changes as have been occurring in the last five years.  It’s irresistible to work at the leading edge of this change.  If I really can invent new solutions, if I have the skills to make them work in practical ways for users, and if I get joy from that, how can I walk away?  On top of that, I have many friends in our industry and I don’t want to reduce my interaction with them.  I enjoy teaching, although I find little time to do it.  I also have a lot to learn myself in our changing world of power systems.

My work involves a great deal of travel.  I observe that most people detest travel today, but for me it’s as magical as it was when I was a teenager. 
While I speak of my love of the work I’m doing - I am open to something completely different, and keep an eye out for a change if my internal compass points towards it.  That compass is wise and has served me well for my whole life.
You might have guessed my view of retirement if you knew that I am not good at relaxing on a beach - I can do that for about 20 minutes.  On holiday, Barb and I would rather visit the museums, gardens, concert halls of interesting cities.

PAC World:  You have received different awards during your career. Is there one you consider more important than the rest?
E.U.: I was deeply honored to be elected IEEE Fellow in 1999; I particularly treasured the fact that my nominator was Dr. Arun Phadke, perhaps the most creative contributor to our industry in my life so far. 
Because my 43 years at IEEE PSRC have been such an important part of my career, I value the recognition awards I have gotten from PSRC - working group leadership, standard publication, two terms of subcommittee leadership, two distinguished service awards, and a golden anniversary award. Personally important to me are two Walter A. Elmore Best Technical Paper awards from the Georgia Institute of Technology Protective Relay Conference.

PAC World:  What was the greatest professional or personal challenge that you faced?
E.U.:  In 2005, in the middle of my project engagement creating a new protection and control philosophy and design for Michigan Electric Transmission Company, I learned that I had cancer and began a two year journey to wellness that included radiation, multiple surgeries, and multiple stints of chemotherapy.  I marched into this program determined to exit the other end and continue my life as it was.  Furthermore, I could not accept or imagine that I really had to slow down or quit, even temporarily.  So I carried on, not quitting work.  There were times when the process slowed me down - I was exhausted and had a hard time staying awake through some of the longer teleconferences.  I was completely out of service for a few weeks surrounding surgeries.  During chemotherapy, I scheduled travel and work around the two-week saw-tooth function of my treatment and ability to function, arranging medical testing in travel destinations to maximize my work time.  I am sure that this sustained and uplifting work played a crucial role in my successful outcome.  At the end of treatment, I felt greater confidence than I had ever known in my ability to meet challenges and prevail.  I am proud of what I accomplished in my work even as I fought this battle.

I don’t discuss this topic in my normal working relationships.  I am defined by what I have accomplished and by the friends I have, and not by any challenging life event of the past.

PAC World:  What are the things that you like to do when you are not working?
E.U.:  I enjoy running several times a week, or more if I can fit it in - it’s a great way to take a work break and tour the places I visit for work or holiday. 
It’s important for me to spend time with Barb during the limited opportunities when I’m home or when we travel together.  Walking neighborhoods and trails, enjoying the cultural offerings of our city of Pittsburgh, or being with friends fill the sharing gaps created by frequent business travel. Since age 14, I’ve been a licensed amateur radio operator or ‘ham’, with the call sign K3SGT which I’ve held since I was a teenager.  I belong to a local radio club and maintain a working HF/VHF station.  I like to work on radio equipment, but I need to find more time to actually use it.

PAC World:  You have traveled all over the world. Do you have a favorite place you like to go to?
E.U.: My first business destination was San Francisco, and it’s still my favorite. But I’ve had such diverse travel opportunities that I couldn’t list all the places I have loved.  Recent high spots are Berlin, New York City, Manchester (UK), Jerusalem, and Medellin, Colombia.

PAC World: What is your favorite form of entertainment?
E.U.:  I’ve loved classical music since I was a child, and I listen as much as I can.  I enjoy all genres, with a focus on romantic and modern works. The best experience is in live concerts by great orchestras.  Barb and I are blessed to live in a city with one of the best - the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. We rarely miss a concert.

PAC World:  Do you have any favorite food?
E.U:  Coffee and cheese.  Wine and cheese.  What time of day is it?

PAC World:  What is the advice that you give to the young people in our industry?
E.U.:  If they haven’t already discovered the fascinating combination of leading-edge technical disciplines that comprises electric power system protection and control as we do it today, I try to paint a rich picture - to overcome the old image of power engineering as just being about huge copper and iron devices. I also like to explain the realities of the business world and of organizational and personal interactions and politics - understanding these and learning to build with them enables all the technical good we would like to accomplish, while making one’s work life so much more rewarding.  Mastering this skill set may be the biggest challenge for an engineer - I still work on it, and will never be able to get it right every time.

PAC World:  What is your motto?
E.U.:  “In order to remain young, one must change.”

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