Friday, July 24, 2015

Tao Hong: Be Honest

Below is my recent interview with T&D World Magazine. The original version is HERE.

Tao Hong: Be Honest

Tao Hong always sticks to his integrity, especially when it comes to energy forecasting. As graduate program director and EPIC assistant professor at the Systems Engineering and Engineering Management Department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, he said the best advice he has ever received is to always be honest.
Sometimes we are pressured to make the forecasts following someone else' personal agenda. Rather than modeling other people's mind and making fraudulent forecasts, we should always stick to our integrity.
Hong will be presenting Energy Forecasting in the Smart Grid Era (blog post) at the 2015 IEEE PES General Meeting, being held July 26-30, in Denver, Colorado. The full-day tutorial covers how wide-range deployment of smart grid technologies enables utilities to monitor the power systems and gather data on a much more granular level than ever before. While the utilities can potentially better understand the customers, design the demand response programs, forecast and control the loads, integrate renewable energy and plan the systems, etc., they are facing analytic issues with making sense and taking advantage of the "big data".

This tutorial developed by IEEE Working Group on Energy Forecasting offers a comprehensive overview of energy forecasting to utility forecasters, analysts, planners, operators and their managers. The participants will learn the fundamentals and the state-of-the-art of load, price and wind forecasting through real world examples and case studies. Topics include:
  • Fundamentals of energy forecasting
  • Short-term and long-term electricity demand forecasting
  • Price forecasting in competitive electricity markets
  • Wind power forecasting in theory and practice
Hong also writes a blog on energy forecasting. See the Q&A below for more information on Hong's varied experience and how he applies it to consulting and teaching:

Q: How does your current position help you in presenting your session on energy forecasting, and how does your past experience help you in this role?

In my current role as a professor at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, I conduct cutting-edge research in the area of energy analytics, help energy companies worldwide through consulting engagement, and teach undergraduate/graduate students and industry professionals in and outside my university. All of these activities allow me to grasp the emerging industry trends and establish best practices, so that I can share them with the folks in my class.

Prior to joining the academic world, I worked in the industry as a consultant, first in a utility consulting firm (Quanta Technology) and then in a large analytics software vendor (SAS). That experience helps me understand what the industry really need, today and tomorrow. With that in mind, I can tailor the education materials to produce useful workforce for the industry.

Q: When and why did you decide to go into your particular career field?

My father was a utility executive. My grandfather was the head of electrical engineering department at a Chinese university. I think the family has more or less influence on my career moves - now I'm a professor in the power and energy field.

In 2008, I started my career at Quanta Technology, a firm started by several IEEE Fellows. In my first few years, I had the fortune of working with folks such as Jim Burke, Lee Willis and Richard Brown. I knew I couldn't replicate any of them. Meanwhile, I saw more and more smart grid technologies are being deployed. I thought data analytics would be badly needed and my education background in operations research could be a perfect fit. That was the time I started building my career toward data analytics.

Q: Best thing about your job right now?

Freedom. The university offers great flexibility to the professors, so that they can do the things that they think is meaningful.

Q: What courses/sessions have you presented in the past, and what’s coming up?

I have taught many courses, such as power distribution losses, energy markets, and power systems planning. My signature course is Electric Load Forecasting: Fundamentals and Best Practices, which has been taught for 17 times, with about 200 attendees coming from more than 50 organizations across more than 10 countries. I'm heading to Australia to teach this course for its 18th offering. I'm also writing a textbook with the same title. The book is available online with free access.

See the blog post and statistics about the course.

Q: What's the most important thing you’ve learned in your past experience that you want to communicate to students or participants?

Be honest. We, as forecasters, are often making forecasts to assist million-dollar decisions. Sometimes we are pressured to make the forecasts following someone else' personal agenda. Rather than modeling other people's mind and making fraudulent forecasts, we should always stick to our integrity. Once I had hard time making a decision on a related matter. I asked my mentor Jim Burke for his advice. This is what he wrote to me:
Always be honest, and while the consequences may be negative for a while, when you get my age, you'll be happy with yourself.....Jim
Which I consider the most valuable advice I got from him.

See the blog post about honesty.

Q: Why do you think "energy forecasting in the smart grid era" is important to the industry? How will it help attendees?

Thanks to the smart grid technologies and desire of a green future, the power industry today is facing active electricity demand, intermittent renewable generation and unpredictable electricity price spikes, which has brought significant challenges to power systems planning and operations. In such an uncertain environment, we have to rely on data and analytics in addition to our experience to make informed decisions. Forecasting is a crucial and fundamental step in the analytics workflow. From this tutorial on energy forecasting, students will gain an overview of the field of energy forecasting, understand the utility applications of forecasting, and learn best practices validated from field implementations.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

If spare time is defined as the off-work hours minus family time, I would say that blogging is my favorite. I run a blog on energy forecasting, which is surprisingly popular given that this is not a big field. Last year, my audience were from more than 1400 cities across more than 120 countries. Apparently it is an extension of my career. I also see it as an escape, because I don't get anonymous reviewers to stop me from publishing a blog post.

See the blog post Energy Forecasting @2014.

Q: Anything else you would like to add about your teaching philosophy?

IEEE PES sponsored the Global Energy Forecasting Competition 2014. As the General Chair of the competition, I would like to invite the tutorial attendees to join the full-day program on Wednesday (7/29) including two panel sessions and a reception in the evening.

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