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‘Down-and-Dirty’ Training For Utilities Folks Key

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For James Mater, being retired means more time to spend promoting smart grid interoperability, his passion for the last 18 months.  Mater and the firm he co-founded, QualityLogic, are now in charge of interoperability testing for the $88.8 million Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project (SGT, Jun-09), while he prepares courses and methods for utility senior executives and engineers on how to assess vendors’ claims of interoperability.

Mater’s work post-retirement earned him an award in June from the GridWise Architecture Council (GWAC) for advancing the cause of openness in the power system (SGT, Jun-07).

After working in product management for a number of years, Mater founded QualityLogic, of Moorpark, Calif, in the 1990s and led it as CEO through 2008.  He retired in October 2008 and “started looking around to see what I could do about climate change,” he said in a recent interview.

Mater, who holds degrees in physics and business, began attending GWAC meetings.  As he learned about the smart grid, he said, “I saw there was an opportunity both personally and for the business to make a contribution to climate-change issues through the smart grid.” Adding intelligence to the grid could cut pollution, he realized, and testing software and creating software-testing tools were services essential to standardizing smart grid technology.

At a conference, he bumped into people from Battelle Memorial Institute — project leader of the Pacific Northwest demo — and demo outreach and education leader Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).  He offered up QualityLogic as the project’s testing firm and agreed to a cost-share arrangement, and it was a done deal.  Mater pushed the idea that the demo can become “the bellwether for interoperability in the DOE projects,” he said.

Now Mater and QualityLogic, along with Drummond Group CEO Rik Drummond, will spend five years developing and applying tools to interoperability-test software from fellow demo partners IBM and Battelle.  The aim is to ensure that communications among BPA and its utilities function correctly, Mater said.

Mater in a paper supplemented the GWAC’s Decision-Maker’s Interoperability Checklist, a series of questions regulators and senior utility executives should ask when considering new technology.  And with Drummond, he created the Smart Grid Interoperability Maturity Model, meant to help utilities assess to what degree they or organizations they plan to deal with are capable of interoperability.  The model will get its shakedown during the demo, he said.

Mater heads a working group within the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel’s testing and certification committee.  And, again with Drummond, Mater designed a series of interoperability training courses meant to help utilities ask the right questions of vendors.  The two hope to present the courses as webinars through online-education firm Electric Utility Consultants.

“It’s really important to provide a down-and-dirty kind of training for utility people charged with implementing interoperability technologies, so they understand little things like the difference between interoperability and conformance testing,” Mater said.  “There’s a whole bunch of things we can help them understand.”

This story has been reproduced from the August 17, 2010 issue of Smart Grid Today with the permission  of the publisher, MMI Inc.