Out West student blog

A Journey to the Western Interconnection

Yulia pinning hopes of a good summer to WECC (photo credit: Chen Zhang).

By Yulia Chen '20

Hometown: Shanghai, China
Intern, Western Electricity Coordinating Council




Why did you want to do this internship?

As the power outage in NYC reminds me, power systems reliability is an important subject. And it is arguably an increasing challenge with higher renewable integration rates, ambitious carbon reduction goals, and emerging cybersecurity concerns. I wanted to work for Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) because I wanted to learn how this challenging job is done on a regional level and how the reliability compliance standards are designed and reinforced.

How does your role support the host organization's mission?

WECC's mission is to promote reliability of the Western Interconnection. As my mentor Matthew puts it, WECC not only prevents the grid from falling off the cliff, it also evaluates how close we are to the edge when disruptive events occur. My internship project helps the latter by creating a framework for analyzing electricity demand, which is an essential variable for finding how close we are to the edge.

Mentor Matthew Elkins illustrating what WECC does.

Has anything surprised you about the work, the organization, or the environment?

Although I learned before the start of my internship that WECC has only 100+ employees, I still am constantly amazed by how this small office in Salt Lake City, Utah oversees such an extensive interconnection spanning most of the western states and covering parts of Canada and Mexico.

How would you describe one of the projects you will be working on this summer?

One project I'm working on at WECC is to analyze how electricity demand patterns have changed across the Western Interconnection. Over the past decades, adoptions of new technologies such as energy efficient appliances and solar panels have potentially reshaped the daily pattern of demand and our project aims to quantify the impacts and to draw insights for future resource adequacy evaluations.

How does this project relate to your studies and/or career goals?

My interest in power systems planning has been growing with every relevant course, research project, and internship I undertake. This project at WECC will further my understanding of the planning processes. In addition, WECC is the first governmental agency I have worked at, which makes this an invaluable experience for someone who wants to work in a regulated industry.


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