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Humans of IEEE PES – Professor Saifur Rahman, President, IEEE PES

Humans of IEEE PES refers to a dedicated PES volunteer who is well known for his notable contribution to IEEE PES. In this issue of IEEE PES Enews Update, Professor Saifur Rahman, President, IEEE PES has been selected for Humans of IEEE PES. We are very pleased to include an exclusive interview of Professor Saifur Rahman.

Professor Saifur Rahman, President, IEEE PES

Professor Saifur Rahman

eNews: Hello, everyone. We are with Professor Dr. Saifur Rahman today. Sir, would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Dr. Saifur Rahman: Good morning, everybody. This is Professor Dr. Saifur Rahman at Virginia Tech. I am the Joseph R. Loring Professor in Electrical Engineering at Virginia Tech. I also direct the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute where I have been working since 1998. It has been more than 20 years. I completed my BSc at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) in Bangladesh, in 1971. After that, i came to the USA in 1974 and finished my MSc at The State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1975. In the same year, I came here in Virginia Tech for my PhD. After completion of my PhD in 1978, I started my teaching career here.

eNews: Thank you, sir. Would you like to share with us, something interesting about your student life that reflects your intrinsic leadership skills?

Dr. Saifur Rahman: In 1969, when i was an undergraduate student in Bangladesh, I was once chosen to be the leader of a team formed to participate in the National Quiz Competition. It was a prestigious competition back then and it consisted of around six or seven rounds of competitive quizzing. After completing all the segments without getting eliminated, we ended up winning the championship. It was a great honour for our university since it was the very first time we achieved national recognition in quizzing. After i came to Virginia Tech, I was a team leader here as well. All of these experiences helped me to be in my current shape.

eNews: That is indeed a long list of achievements. Sir, we would like to know exactly when did you decide to start research in the power and energy sector? What motivated you to choose this particular field?

Dr. Saifur Rahman: When i finished my undergraduate in 1971, I had two options to choose from. One of them was power and the other was communication. The communication part was mostly about telecommunication which was basically mathematics based. I was more interested in power as it was something i could physically see and feel when i am working. I had an uncle working for a local power company who also motivated me to keep working in this field. Eventually, i found myself enthusiastic about power stations, power generation and transmission. I also did some work on power during my MSc degree in the USA. After I  came to Virginia Tech, my topic of interest concerned nuclear power. My main focus was how to make a nuclear reactor more efficient in its operation.

eNews: Sir, you have had a very glorious journey when it comes to your career. We would like to know about the ups and downs of you career? Would you please share the challenges you faced during this long journey of yours?

Dr. Saifur Rahman: My topic of the dissertation for PhD at Virginia Tech was “Efficient Refueling of a Nuclear Power Plant”. It was something very unique at that time in 1978. Currently, other countries such as China, India, Bangladesh, France etc. are focusing on nuclear power now, while US is not developing that much. But at that time, US had the most focus in nuclear energy, thus, it was a big challenge.

Next, I went to Texas A&M University, as an Assistant Professor where I spent over one year. But, I had to come back to Virginia Tech because I wanted to continue researching. But this time I did not pursue nuclear energy as I did not want to restrain myself to one topic. Rather, I went the exactly opposite with solar energy. I did a project with a local power company of North Carolina, called CP&L (Carolina Power & Light Company) that studies mainly on solar and wind power, as well as nuclear power. That was a turning point in my career and I am glad that I took that leap. It gave me the opportunities to expand upon and pursue my interests in other possible fields in power.

eNews: Being a passionate researcher, you have contributed to innumerable researches.Which are the various sectors that you have impacted with your researches? Is there any special innovation-clad reason behind pursuing them, as well?

Dr. Saifur Rahman: For the last 40 years, I have researched on at least 4 different sectors. The significance of each of my research lies with the context that lead me to pursue them, as well as the related fields. I started with nuclear power in 1979 with a vision to make the nuclear reactor & operations more efficient. Coming back to Virginia Tech, I worked closely with the industries that focus on applications of solar and wind to develop some high quality research papers that acted as the turning point of my life. From there, I never constrained myself to only one thing.

In the ‘80s, I shifted to a totally untapped field regarding Electric Power Load Forecasting. Then, I moved to integrating renewables in the power grid, which at that time was a very unconventional topic, but I decided to contribute to and develop the field for a few years. After all that, my recent focus is IoT (Internet of Things) device integration using a platform I developed, which is called, “Building Energy Management Open-Source Software (BEMOSS)”, where we implement open architecture IoT platform integration for device monitoring & control. I am very happy with how things are going and I hope that it will thoroughly impact academic and industrial sectors.

eNews: We all know that you are an amazing professor and also, very popular among the students. In your opinion, what are the most important factors that someone should consider in order to become a successful professor?

Dr. Saifur Rahman: Actually, my teaching career goes way back. When i finished high school in 1967, I was chosen by the school’s Physics Department to teach in a laboratory. That was the start. However, from my postdoctoral teaching period, I have always maintained my teaching process in a certain order. For example, when i enter a classroom, my focus always remains on the students instead of the board. I always try to make eye contact with the students to figure out what they are thinking. When I find them to be unmindful, looking at the wall or chatting in their iPad, that gives me the cue that I’m not being effective at all.

I always encourage my students to ask questions whenever they fail to understand something. They often tend to have the mentality that they can figure it out later; But, I strongly discourage that. I try to make the class as interactive as possible so that, when they leave the class they thoroughly understand what was discussed in the class. My students have been very helpful with this practice so far. Therefore, interactivity is the best thing I have, to make the students attracted to the lecture I am giving. Even when I am giving a lecture in a conference in front of five hundred people from all over the world, I try to maintain the interactivity. I try to have them look at me instead of taking pictures of the slides to think what I am thinking, and thus, developing a mental connection in the process. This is my secret behind maintaining a class successfully.

eNews: You have been a very dedicated PES volunteer, putting in a lot of effort to make it more impactful. We would like to know about the milestones in your journey with IEEE PES.

Dr. Saifur Rahman: I became a member of IEEE PES in 1975 when I came to the USA for my MSc degree. I remember very distinctly that in January of that year, I attended the “IEEE PES Winter Power Meeting” in New York. I kept working as a student member during my PhD and became a senior member in 1978, upon completing my PhD. I had been working in the Virginia Mountain Section of IEEE PES and got my very first recognition upon receiving “Outstanding Young Engineer Award” in 1983. Eventually, I became the Section Chair in the Virginia Mountain Section. From there, with  my active participation, I became the Vice President of IEEE PES multiple times. I was also involved in IEEE Education Board, IEEE Corporate, IEEE Publications Board and IEEE Technical Activities Board.

Basically, I have been working with IEEE for last 25 years. I enjoyed making contributions through my various activities. All these experiences lead me to my current position, the President of IEEE PES. Even though, i served as the Vice President of IEEE PES multiple times, the thought of becoming a President never occurred to me. Back in 2015, when a friend of mine came to me and told me to run for the elections, I was not really an enthusiast for it. However, I decided that I would pursue it if the IEEE PES Election Committee had nominated me. Unfortunately, I was not nominated that year, but I was not disheartened. However, much to my surprise, a lot of my acquaintances insisted on me running as a petition candidate. The process of running as a petition candidate was that someone had to write you a letter supporting your candidacy and two thousand signatures must be collected to qualify. As a result, I ended up becoming one of the three candidates running for IEEE PES President-elect in the fall of 2015. I got the results in November and found out that I got elected by a significant margin. I worked as the President-elect for the session 2016-17 and visited many chapters. Then I became the President in 2018 with six years of commitment and I am very happy to do my job. That is the story of my IEEE PES journey, one that i am very much grateful about.

eNews: That was indeed an eventful journey. Dr. Rahman. Would you tell us about the initiatives that you have taken, or aim to take, as the President of IEEE PES? How do you measure the success and achievements of those initiatives?

Dr. Saifur Rahman: As the PES president i am very focused on member contributions, member activities and member engagements. For that, i have implemented two new opportunities. The first one is called, “Corporate Engagement Program”. In addition to the individual members like us, we are encouraging different corporations to become esteemed Corporate Members, which will encourage their engineers to become members and actively contribute to the society.. I have signed multiple Memorandum of Understandings (MoU) in different countries including the USA regarding Corporate Memberships.

Secondly, there are many chapters in a single country which separately have many members, but do not come together as a national body. So, I took the initiative to create IEEE PES Chapter Councils based on countries. These councils are a platform where Chapter Chairs can come together to discuss and motivate on different issues that makes PES more relevant. For example, there are more than 10 different PES chapters in India, but they never communicate with each other as they are all over the country. But, now they have a platform to come together twice a year to talk about issues regarding power & energy sector in India. Same goes for China. The China PES Chapter Council is organizing international conferences now. They are organizing a big conference on Smart Grids. There is a new thing called “Energy Internet” going on there as well. I am very happy to see that the chapter leaders have taken it as a challenge to form these councils and thus, become a reputable body in such a way that their governments will want to join them for consultancy.

Furthermore, I try to make my presence very apparent among the members by attending as many conferences as I can. I have been to about 10 conferences in the last year and a half. I intend to attend even more this year, so that the members can tell me their concerns and complaints directly and for that, i intend to go whatever distance I have to.

eNews: As IEEE PES is one of the oldest and largest chapters in IEEE, it has evolved throughout its time. As the current President, where do you see IEEE PES in next 30 years? Also, what are the major changes that are to be expected? To withstand those changes, what are the additional effort that is required?

Dr. Saifur Rahman: Going back in history, IEEE’s predecessor American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) was established in 1884. Power was a prime focal point of the institute at that time with Thomas Alva Edison being one of the visionary leaders. Not just that, PES was formed just with the formation of IEEE. In the beginning, it was called the Power Engineering Society (PES). Since then, the acronym stayed but the full form was changed to Power and Energy Society (PES). From there, things changed even further. Only 10 years ago, in IEEE there were three big societies, Computer Society with the largest base, Communications Society (ComSoc) in second and PES in third. But now, PES is in 2nd position, just over ComSoc, which is very good. At the same time, PES’s field of interest has grown. Expanding on power, we delved our way into Power Grids, Smart Grids, Smart Cities, Smart Villages, Renewable Energies, Smart Buildings and many other sectors.

But as we evolve, so will the definition of power. It will evolve just like telecommunications, computer, materials and smart networks, if not more. At the same time, the power networks will change. Today, we have Power Stations, high voltage long distance transmission lines, distribution networks and finally the consumer sides consisting of houses, offices and other businesses. Over time, more and more renewables will come to the forefront, within 20 years. We will rely less on non-renewable sources such as coal, oil and gas. By then, it will be possible to develop renewables in small scale. As a current example, we have a power station today in China which generates 21,000 megawatts of solar power under one roof. If you want to generate that much it will require thousands of acres of land, hundreds of power stations and various storage methods and so forth. So how to manage all these? How to get the optimum way to control their output without any failure? These are the upcoming challenges.

Moving forward to 2050, there will be lots of small power stations, power plants, rooftop and ground mounted solar harnessing units, consumer sized wind wind, hydro, nuclear and gas turbines, along with other technologies yet to come. They will be very different but at the end the electron flow will be the same. How you control the center of the network, that will be of the same importance. Alongside such, storage will play a big role as well, as the definition of storage will definitely change. I expect to see that in 10 years from now, electric vehicles will be able to be provide electricity for my house at night, when i have more demand than what my power supplying company provides. Driving the cars during day time, they will get charged, and during night time, will serve my household.. That is a vision, I am longing to see.

eNews: Thank you, Dr. Rahman. I am sure the potential researchers will be looking into these issues. Are there any other issues relevant to PES that you would like to share with us today?

Dr. Saifur Rahman: There is one last thing that I would like to focus on regarding PES. We have about 39,000 members, however only 2,000 of them are active. The majority of them are limited to coming to conferences and reading papers only. I want those 37,000 inactive members to have a stake in the PES. Now the question arises that how you can become relevant to such a vast organization. My answer would be, by writing papers, joining conferences and volunteering. My aim is to make the path easier for the members to actively contribute.

Currently, we have more than 260 chapters in IEEE PES Global. That means almost 150 countries have PES chapters. So you can perhaps fathom, how many chapter chairs, vice chairs and members are there under PES and what a huge number of activities are going on everywhere. I am happy to see this active state of the chapters. But I am taking initiatives to make sure that IEEE PES student branches are growing even more in number where students can get involved in power and energy related activities. Moving forward, I want to see more active members coming to our meetings, with PES being the platform to update them with what is happening out in the world and to develop their networks. I hope to see members actively use and contribute to this platform. Now, we also have IEEE PES Resource Center full of conference proceedings, slides and video clips. The members can have access to them at any time to be in touch with developments in the Power and Energy field.

eNews: Thank you Dr. Rahman for sharing with us your long journey starting from leading a university quiz team to diversified research contribution and eventually right now as an IEEE PES President. We wish you all the very best in your future endeavours as well.

Interview Coordination and Transcription
Dr. Shaikh Fattah, Editor, PES Enews Update
Ashraful Haque, Virginia Tech
Sadiah Ahmed Moon, BUET