Julia Matevosyan is the Chief Engineer at the Energy Systems Integration Group (ESIG). She has more than 20 years of experience in the power industry. Prior to joining ESIG, Matevosyan was the Lead Planning Engineer of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). In her time with ERCOT, she worked on adequacy of system inertial response, system flexibility, frequency control, and performance issues related to high penetration levels of inverter-based generation and ancillary services market design. Julia received her BSc from Riga Technical University in Latvia, and her MSc and Ph.D. from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Sweden.
Tell us a little about your career trajectory. How did you arrive at this field of study and what made you want to explore power systems?
My best friend, whose entire family are power systems engineers, was very determined to become one. As we were finishing high school, I was undecided about what career to pursue. I just knew I wanted math to be in it, but not much beyond that. My friend said, “let’s just go together.” And this is how I became a power engineer. To be honest, the first 2 years at university were hard with a lot of tough technical courses. I even considered quitting in a moment of weakness. In the third year, there was an opportunity to participate in an exchange program and study in Sweden for 6 months. This is when I realized that power systems engineering is not just about solving problems at your computer, but also meeting new people from all over the world and learning from them.
I graduated from Riga Technical University with a BSc and returned to that same university in Sweden to do my MSc (Royal Institute of Technology, KTH), and then my Ph.D. Towards the end of my Ph.D, I had a lot of ideas left from my capstone project, so I applied for a post-doctoral research position at KTH and worked there for another 2 years. It may seem like a long academic career, but I always wanted to work on analysis and methods that can be readily used in the industry. In that sense, all my research was very practical, and I collaborated closely with engineers in the industry.
After my post-doc, I worked in consulting in London for 3 years. Working in a relatively small consulting firm is a great experience at the start of an industrial career. I had the opportunity to work on many different projects and on different power systems around the world. After 3 years I moved to Austin, Texas, for family reasons, but was very fortunate to get a great job opportunity at ERCOT, the local independent system operator.
I spent the next 10 years at ERCOT and learned so much as the ERCOT system was undergoing rapid energy sector transformation towards higher shares of wind, solar, and energy storage. The ERCOT system is not synchronously interconnected with the rest of the U.S., so that creates unique and interesting challenges. I had the privilege to work with talented and knowledgeable colleagues on developing innovative solutions every day, and I found it the most exciting part of the job. I also continued that trend of collaborating with the broader power systems engineering community in the U.S. and globally.
During my entire career at ERCOT, I was active in IEEE, CIGRE, and other industry organizations, and attended and presented at many technical conferences and workshops. This is where I got an opportunity to first collaborate with ESIG as an industry member. Later, I got the opportunity to join ESIG as a member of the staff. ESIG is an educational non-profit organization, whose mission is to chart the future of grid transformation and energy systems integration. We convene the engineering and regulatory community, provide information, education, and peer-to-peer networking to support energy transitions.
I think that at ESIG, I am exactly where my skill set fits best. I collaborate, communicate, share my knowledge, and learn from others. I also enjoy communicating with the policymakers, providing a clear picture of engineering challenges and possible solutions, but without overcomplicating it. That is extremely important since policymakers’ decisions depend on their understanding of the issues, and those decisions have a tremendous effect on the industry. I always look up to people who can explain complex engineering problems with simple animations–it’s almost like magic!
Describe your role and work with the G-PST Consortium.
I got involved in the G-PST Consortium while still at ERCOT, since ERCOT is one of the six founding system operators. At the time, I was brainstorming with my colleagues to create the Research Agenda and include the most important challenges related to energy transition that system operators are dealing with already. I saw the progression from the start of the G-PST, where systems operators were each primarily focused on their own system, to very tight collaboration where engineers between the six areas spread around the entire globe know each other well, know methods and tools that are being developed in each organization, learn from each other, and share their experiences. G-PST also brought the research community closer to the real-life problems of the system operators. This allows the methods developed in academia, research institutes, and laboratories to find more immediate application in system operators’ operations and planning.
Now that I am at ESIG, we lead Pillar 1 and focus on the Research Agenda. I help my colleagues with various initiatives under Pillar 1, such as organizing webinars on the topics in the G-PST Research Agenda, updating the agenda, keeping track of our progress, and helping with the Grid Forming Implementation Council.
In your own words, why is G-PST’s mandate of supporting system operators through the clean energy transition so critical at this moment?
Just by the nature of each power system, as well as the speed of energy transition policy, some systems are already reaching very high levels of renewables, while others are only starting on that journey. Without G-PST, there may be collaborations between system operators one-on-one, but these are rare.
G-PST brought the system operators much closer together to where they don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but they can share their best practices and learn from each other. They can also leverage the best experts from the research community globally. This is something that, I think, was not possible before.
You have many years of experience working at a system operator. How is G-PST uniquely poised to solve or provide solutions for some of the challenges or questions system operators are reckoning with today?
I think the traditional system operator’s mindset was that they must focus on immediate issues in their system. That their power system is unique and there is not necessarily much to be learned from others and no time or point in sharing experiences. This mindset has been changing over the past 10-15 years with rapid energy transitions introducing new challenges to system planning and operation every day. There is no solving these challenges in a timely manner without truly global and continuous collaboration between the system operators, and also with the research community.
Previously it could have taken years or even decades before some research solutions or methods would be implemented in industry. Now, there are research questions defined by system operators that are in urgent need of solutions since yesterday. This is where G-PST is uniquely poised to serve as a platform for collaboration.
What G-PST projects are you most excited about being involved in right now, and why?
The G-PST Grid Forming Implementation Council, of course! This is a collaboration between system operators, manufacturers, and developers to facilitate deployment of grid-forming inverter-based resources.
Grid-forming control of inverter-based resources is one of the enablers of a high renewable future. However, this is relatively new technology, and the pace of the deployment is not sufficiently fast. There is a lack of standards and testing procedures for this technology as well. The goal with the implementation council is to leverage experience from areas that already have deployed some grid-forming projects, collaborate across the system operators to develop a harmonized set of technical specifications and testing procedures for this technology, and streamline deployment in other areas by sharing these learnings.
I also enjoyed developing teaching materials for Women in PST, where, with leadership from Imperial College London and power systems experts from around the world, G-PST published in-depth university teaching materials for four cutting-edge power system technical topics aligned with the G-PST Inaugural Teaching Agenda.
What advice would you give to young people who want to develop a successful career in power systems?
Be curious and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Look outside of your immediate job description. Get involved with IEEE, CIGRE, G-PST, and other collaborative industry organizations. This provides incredible opportunities to meet people, learn from them and share what you know as well as to contribute to the development of this industry overall. This also provides perpetual learning and development because there is always something new happening in this exciting industry. But with all of that, also find balance that works for you and makes you happy.
Tell us a little about yourself. How do you like to spend your time outside of work?
Haha. What’s outside of work? To be honest, at this point I don’t really distinguish between work and no work anymore. For me, it is all just a continuum. I do what I love then I go spend time with my family and friends, then I think about some interesting challenge at work again, and so it goes. I love languages, and I am constantly trying to keep up a few that I’ve picked throughout my life by watching movies and reading books in those languages whenever I have time. I love to travel, and since work takes me to many places, I am usually trying to carve out some time to see something new or meet up with old colleagues and friends that I’ve made around the world!