A smart networker for a smart grid
Sweden’s top proponent of smart grid technology, Lina Bertling Tjernberg, has dedicated her career to analysing the reliability of electric power systems, mainly focusing on the grid. This is no easy task, especially given the rapid advance of technology and the changing nature of energy during the last 15 years.
For all of the grid’s complexity, the point of having an energy system is quite simple, says Lina Bertling Tjernberg.
“In my mind it has only one purpose: to deliver electricity to customers with a certain level of quality and availability,” she says. “I work with mathematical models – what kind of measures can we develop for the reliability of the system?”
That question has occupied Bertling Tjernberg for the last 17 years. After five years as a Professor in Sustainable Electric Power Systems at Chalmers University, she has returned to the university where she earned her doctorate to become KTH Royal Institute of Technology School of Electrical Engineering’s first Professor in Power Grid Technology, or what’s commonly called Smart Grid.
It’s a fitting role for a scientist who has built a worldwide network of contacts in the area of the smart grid, and who is the Swedish government’s adviser on the subject. With renewable energy sources playing an increasingly important role in the power system, Bertling Tjernberg’s core areas of interest – high voltage direct current (DC) and grid reliability – pose critical questions for smart grid planners.
But Bertling Tjernberg is also a connection-maker, and her involvement with the global smart grid community is as much about her own research as bringing the best ideas together from different disciplines, with the singular goal of making the power system’s work more efficient, more sustainable and, well, smarter.
“My passion lies in finding new ideas and capturing the different kinds of knowledge, so that together we can find solutions for the smart grid and the energy system,” she says.
A global network
As a member of CIGRE (the International Council on Large Electric Systems), Bertling Tjernberg is one of two national members of a working group to examine the reliability and impact of high voltage direct current (HVDC) on smart grid. The research will play an important role in the building of Sweden’s proposed Southern Link, to secure the southern part of the country’s electricity supply.
But CIGRE is just one of several organisations in which Bertling Tjernberg is involved. She maintains contact with a global community of smart grid engineers, scientists and policy-makers through her involvement in professional groups such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), where she serves as Treasurer of the ieee Power & Energy Society and Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid Technologies.
She sees the multi-international interactions as an important part of her role. “To me, in my role as an expert, it’s an obvious way of payback to my employer, while participating in leadership training,” she says. The IEEE leads several large- and small-scale efforts on sustainable energy, Bertling Tjernberg points out. And her volunteer work is a source of inspiration that enables her to keep her abreast of research trends.
“During my travels I read, write, listen and come up with new long-term ideas,” she says. “Meeting all these amazing people provides meaning, joy and inspiration in my working life – both with people that are my models and the new generation whom I can support and guide into the power system society.”
Her devotion to putting people in contact with each other is motivated by what she sees as a need to widen the participation in building energy systems of the future. Bertling Tjernberg likens the evolution of the power grid to that of the telecommunications network, explaining that the power system too is bound to see an expansion in the kinds of actors involved. “It’s crucial to get people together to meet in order to overcome gaps in technology areas, between engineers and policy makers, between generations and different cultures,” she says.
Bertling Tjernberg has helped widen the circle by organizing the ieee’s first Innovative Smart Grid Technologies (ISGT) conference in Europe in 2010, and has since led the ISGT Europe Steering Committee. She also is an adviser for ISGT in the us and Asia. “Smart grid requires knowledge from several disciplines and to think in new ways.”
An explorer’s instinct
From the beginning of her career, Bertling Tjernberg has demonstrated the instincts of an explorer – one whose fascination with complex problems is strong enough to overcome any doubts about what lies ahead. “To me as a researcher, you’re always searching,” she says.
After earning her doctorate, Bertling Tjernberg was offered a position in 2007 as research director at the Swedish National Grid (Svenska Kraftnät). Her decision was guided by a sense that something interesting lay ahead.
“When I was doing my research studies at KTH, I thought, ’I want to become a professor’. She wanted to follow in the path of her international adviser and mentor, Ron Allan, Professor Emeritus in Electrical Energy Systems at the University of Manchester. “But then came the offer from Svenska Kraftnät, and I couldn’t resist,” she says. “If your vision is to become an expert in the electric power system, you really need to explore and understand the operation and how it works in real life.”
As she describes it, Bertling Tjernberg finds herself at another crossroads in 2014. After five years at Chalmers University, she has returned only recently to KTH. With no courses or projects at KTH yet, she travelled to Brussels in December to take stock of the most recent EU calls on transmission issues and reliability. Then she settled in at Stanford University in the US with a Smart Grid group at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering to prepare for a half-year sabbatical during which she is developing research ideas for the years ahead. “This is a good time to do it,” she observes.
It’s an exciting time to select new projects, Bertling Tjernberg says. In addition to HVDC, solar energy could also come up on her agenda. “We’ll see,” she says.
One of the big challenges ahead could be managing a wider array of small-scale electricity generation, enabled by more affordable wind and solar technology, she says.
“It is all about the sustainable energy system, and as engineers we want it to work efficiently. My wish is to contribute with smart methods to model and evaluate the reliability of the power grid,” she says.
“We have a lot of work to do because the power grid and the energy system will not look the same as they do today.”
Text: David Callahan