Out West student blog

Using digital analytics to improve the security and reliability of the Western Interconnection

Jack Kessler, having just finished a hike in the Rocky Mountains

Jack Kessler, '23
Hometown: Westfield, New Jersey
Area of Study: Sustainable Design and Construction
Intern, Western Electricity Coordinating Council

Jack Kessler reflects on the western electricity landscape and the relationships he's made as a Shultz Fellow this summer

While I do not work at the Western Electricity Coordinating Council's (WECC) Salt Lake City office full time, I had the opportunity to visit for a few days during the last week of July. This experience helped me feel more a part of the WECC community. The office itself is situated in a renovated industrial warehouse, which boasts historic designation. The structure made WECC’s offices feel more grounded in the history of the city. While at the office, I had the opportunity to present initial findings from my work. My WECC mentors provided helpful feedback and direction on how to further improve my research. 

I have developed close relationships with both of my WECC mentors, Ben Aldous and Kim Israelsson. Ben, who is a senior compliance analyst on the team, has been instrumental in helping me understand the intricacies of WECC’s compliance data. Kim, who manages the program analysis and administration team, has provided strategic research advice.  As a result of her ideas and critiques, I have improved the scope of my research efforts to be more helpful to WECC’s compliance team. 

Outside my immediate team, I have developed a relationship with Branden Sudduth, who is vice president in WECC’s reliability planning and performance analysis (RPPA) group. This group forms the other half of WECC. Through my conversations with Branden, I have learned more about the long-term strategic focus of the group. They seek to model and support the reliable function of the future western electric grid. As is apparent from news headlines, the future of the western grid faces many challenges, from renewable energy integration to wildfire risk. This group takes a proactive approach to addressing these risks.

My work centers around WECC’s compliance data. In its efforts to ensure a reliable bulk electric system in the Western Interconnection, WECC monitors compliance with, and enforces the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) reliability standards. Whenever an entity appears to not comply with a specific standard, the compliance team records a root cause of that compliance issue. Throughout the summer, I have built and applied various natural language processing algorithms that extract meaningful information from the vast amount of root cause data that WECC has collected. Most significantly, I have applied a keyword extraction algorithm to record the main ideas of a specific root cause text. I have organized the results in various ways to provide valuable perspectives on the data. For instance, I have focused on subsets of keywords and highlighted which entities are most correlated with each subset. In this way, WECC can better understand why entities fail to comply, and thus improve their future outreach to those entities.

Another dimension to my project focuses on process tracking. Specifically, I have focused on compliance data related to the discovery date of the issue versus the actual date that the issue began to occur. The difference between these two dates can highlight opportunities to improve both WECC’s and the entity’s issue identification processes. I plan to provide WECC with various plots that show the distribution of date gaps, depending on the entity, discovery method, and the standard. This way, WECC can help expedite these timelines.

Through my fellowship with the WECC, I have begun to think of public agencies as partners to, rather than regulators of, private corporations. The western electricity landscape clearly faces many challenges. Due to its disparate and uncoordinated nature, the private sector is not equipped to handle many of these challenges. However, the public sector can intervene on their behalf to introduce coordinated solutions to these challenges. The private sector then benefits from the more secure landscape that results.

Recent Center News

Wildfire smoke erases years of clean-air gains; why the biggest Colorado River water users will have the most trouble cutting back, despite likely new requirements; disproportionate Arizona heat deaths among trailer residents; insects still protected by California’s endangered species act, and more environmental news from around the West.
A bighorn sheep lies dead by the side of U.S. Highway 85 in western North Dakota (North Dakota Department of Game and Fish) By Felicity Barringer Up Close
Stanford researchers have developed an AI model for predicting dangerous particle pollution to help track the American West’s rapidly worsening wildfire smoke. The detailed results show millions of Americans are routinely exposed to pollution at levels rarely seen just a decade ago.