Bill Flerchinger: Creative Thinkers Welcome in Engineering
Everyone has some creativity. In engineering, creativity means trying different approaches to challenging problems. This year's Visiting Industry Liaison for the Transmission & Distribution graduate program wants to see more engineers turn their creative ideas towards the power grid.
"There are a lot of challenging problems to solve, more so now than ever," says Bill Flerchinger, a former manager for Itron and an instructor for the T&D program. "Man, we need creative, smart people in the power industry!"
Flerchinger knows that power engineering may not seem like a creative field, especially when compared to the high-tech gadgetry other electrical engineers create.
"It's easy to attract somebody to work on drones or electric cars. Power grids sound like old technology. But there are cool challenges associated with it - in fact, some of the toughest challenges," he says.
When Flerchinger went to college, he was one of those students who pursued electronics and the wireless industry. He had a good career at Spokane's Hewlett Packard/Agilent facility for many years, but the company's 2009 announcement to move the operations to California made him look for other Northwest options. A career shift was necessary, and Gonzaga's Masters of Engineering in Transmission & Distribution could make it happen.
"As a student, it was perfect for me. Transitioning careers, I had electrical engineering skills but I didn't know anything about the utility industry. The instructors had very pragmatic, practical knowledge -- the kind you get from working someplace for 20 years. I was able to jump into the power industry in 2010, working for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories" he says.
His first contribution to T&D as the Visiting Industry Liaison is arranging a webinar on transportation electrification.
"Electric vehicles is one of those major challenges to solve, trying get the grid ready to support powering them all at home," he says. "Just think, how much energy will you need? We literally need new infrastructure to support the increased load.
"At the same time, you're closing down coal plants which can operate 24/7, and you want to replace those with renewables that only operate when the wind blows, when the sun's out. This brings up a stability challenge," he says.
Flerchinger will continue arranging webinars that address challenges to solve or some of the creative solutions engineers are developing. He hopes that Gonzaga will continue to inspire the power engineering community, wherever they are.
"We have students from all around the world, which is awesome," he says. "It's a pretty tight-knit industry where people might change companies but everybody knows everybody."