Reflections as President

by Rob Stephen

President of CIGRE

All good things come to an end at some point. In my case this is my last Editorial in Electra as President of CIGRE. I thought it prudent to reflect on my time as President over the last four rather tumultuous years.

Allow me to explain what being President of this incredible organisation has meant to me. I first encountered CIGRE in the 1980’s. At the time the organisation was a bit of a mystery. I thought when a Study Committee visited the country that it encompassed the entire organisation. I did not realise that there were other Study Committees, Working Groups and National Committees. I was privileged to attend a function which was addressed by the CIGRE President. I was in awe that such a large organisation actually had a President that had time to speak at a conference.

My first real experience of CIGRE was in 1988 at the first meeting of WG 22.12 dealing with thermal rating of lines. I had just completed my MSc on the topic and was awestruck to enter a room with all the experts I had referenced in my thesis sitting around the table. I was even more amazed that they allowed me to ask questions and commented on my thoughts without adverse comments. This networking ability made me realise that CIGRE was a unique organisation that was an incredible asset to a young engineer. I undertook to get involved and support CIGRE as much as possible as this was definitely a “win-win” situation. As such I became a Working Group Convener in 1992 and continued as a Convener for many WG’s up until the present (I am now Convener of WG B2.78). I was honoured to chair SC B2 in the early 2000’s and fulfil the role of special reporter on 4 occasions. I have also been privileged to make many friends over the years from all continents and backgrounds.

To be nominated and elected as CIGRE President in 2016 was definitely the highlight of my career. It was far beyond my wildest ambition and I hope I have lived up to your expectations.

I must state that at the time of my commencing office, the groundwork relating to setting up a strong Central Office, sound financials, and the base for a strategy was in place. This was mainly due to the determined efforts of the outgoing President and Treasurer as well as a hard working Steering Committee and Administrative Council.

The first task was to complete the strategy document to define a direction of CIGRE over next 10 years. One of the first issues I found was that we had many “Missions and Visions”. We also had over 20 different logos. The identity of CIGRE was confused. The Mission and Vision was subsequently simplified and decided on. A professional marketing expert was appointed who had previous experience in CIGRE. This proved a good move and he is still actively involved in the latest initiatives relating to digital Electra amongst other items.

As a previous member of the Administrative Council I found that the vast talent present on the Council was perhaps underutilised. We therefore undertook to engage the members more meaningfully with breakaway sessions at the meetings on critical issues.

The Administrative Council were actively involved in determining the new logo and other material. It was also decided to revamp the CIGRE website and allow NCs access to marketing material to avoid each NC having to develop their own material at high cost.

The logo and new identity was launched in 2018 and I am pleased to say that the NCs have really adopted the identity and material across the world. CIGRE now has a clear identity, vision and strategy.

The next major decision was related to the printing of Electra. The advertising in print media decreased drastically in 2017/18 and a decision had to be made to cease the printing of Electra and offer only the .pdf version. Again the Administrative Council was engaged and supported the move which would save costs whilst still allowing members’ access to the flagship magazine. Simultaneously the digital Electra project commenced which will form a digital platform where members can click through to articles and other material seamlessly.

The move for CIGRE into Distribution has been ongoing for many years but the perception still existed that CIGRE was a purely Transmission organisation. We therefore undertook a campaign to reverse the perception as well as place experts in the lower voltage technology on the study committees. The term E2E (end to end) was coined at a breakaway of the Administrative Council and was used as the main tagline for the advertising campaign.

Relating to financial aspects we decided to ensure we had sufficient funds to withstand a total cancellation of the Paris Session. We were, at the time, thinking of a terrorist incident. The strategy proved critical in ensuring CIGRE remained financially viable during the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition cost cutting measures were introduced where possible and the Central Office were instrumental in removing unnecessary expenditures.

I also felt that in the past, the President was not really visible enough. As such I undertook to travel to conferences and seminars supporting NCs where possible. This resulted in a large number of long haul flights but very rewarding meetings with Cigreans from around the world. Unfortunately these flights had to be stopped with the pandemic restrictions.

I undertook to personally write editorials for Electra and the other communication outlets. In the case of Electra I drafted a series of articles on the workings of CIGRE. I found in my travels and with discussion with fellow Cigreans that there was a great deal of confusion as to how CIGRE was structured and how it functioned. A large area of confusion was the Paris Session where delegates, even after attending, may not fully comprehend the details and workings of the session with the roles played by the Special reporters etc. I hope that the editorials can form a compendium of documents explaining CIGRE to members.

With the immense energy of the Marketing Committee, we expanded our communication to members with the introduction of two additional newsletters being the Leadership Circle and the Future Connections for CEO’s and technical leaders respectively. The current newsletter at the time was renamed PowerTalk. Again I felt it necessary for the President to write the editorials for the Leadership Circle and PowerTalk with the Future Connections magazine being run by the Technical Council Chair. We further expanded our communication channels to include LinkedIn and Twitter. I undertook to provide “hook banners” and short summaries of the brochures being published. I feel that the increased communication channels has, to some extent, removed the myth that CIGRE is a closed society run by grey haired gentlemen. There is still some work to do, however.

Just when I was looking forward to opening another Paris Session (the opportunity to open the Session in 2018 was a major career highlight), the pandemic struck. At first we thought that it would be a short term event and by August it would be over and everyone would be back to normal. In March it became clear that this may not be the case. We also realised that should we not make a decision timeously, it may not leave enough time for an alternate arrangement to be made. I therefore proposed on 16 March that we consider taking a decision that was not taken since World War 2. With the analysis, discussions with the office bearers and then with the Steering Committee and Technical Council, we presented the options to the Administrative Council in early April. The decision was taken to postpone the Session to 2021 and hold a unique “e-Session” in 2020. In retrospect this has been the correct move. The Technical Council was incredible in mobilising resources to convert the Session to a virtual one. Working closely with the Central Office, the TC has arranged an excellent event which will no doubt benefit members and create opportunities for similar applications in future. It continues to amaze me that CIGRE, operating with volunteers, creates such achievements which would make many conventional companies envious.

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The main areas of focus at present is to ensure members benefit from the networking and information sharing offered by CIGRE. This is to be achieved by Digital Electra and continuing enhancing existing communication channels. We are also looking at assisting NCs in obtaining new members via the now many internet channels we have established. The initiative into Africa is also starting to realise rewards with two new National Committees possibly being established. Moreover, under the 4.0 Industry thinking, which will bring us disruptive technological developments and will transform the market for the electrical energy business, CIGRE will play an even more important role than ever.

We have endured 100 years as a CIGRE community, a family, advancing power system expertise across the globe. We endured a loss in World War 2 of seven years, but we rose from those ashes at the well-attended 1946 Paris Session, our 25th anniversary, to start afresh. The community endured and we will again after this pandemic. We are now at the start of our 2nd Century, advancing sustainable electricity for all, including those without. We thankfully undertook a digital platform that allows CIGRE to be virtual as needed for times of pandemic. We are advancing initiatives with our robust Next Generation Network (NGN) and our Women in Engineering (WiE) group. We are continuing the focus on distribution technologies (E2E).

It is with a heavy heart that I come to the end of my tenure as President. I am, however, confident my successor will carry CIGRE from strength to strength. I am also confident that the incoming office bearers and Steering Committee will bring a new energy with improved initiatives for growing membership.

With my passion for CIGRE still unabated, I have gratefully accepted the role as editor-in-chief of CIGRE Science and Engineering. The technical magazine of CIGRE, which is now Scopus registered. Its founder and current editor is stepping down for a well-earned rest. I have also, as mentioned previously, agreed to take on a Working Group in SC B2. I will therefore continue to attend events where possible and continue to meet old friends and make new friends in CIGRE.

I hope to see you at a CIGRE event in the not too distant future.


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