Delving Deep into the Present-day Energy & Utilities Industry
Sheila Mendez, Director Utility Applications & IT PPMO, PNM Resources
Sheila Mendez is the Director of Utility Applications, Portfolio/Program Management Office, and Enterprise Architecture at P.N.M. Resources, an investor-owned utility headquartered in Albuquerque, NM. She has over 31 years of technology experience and 23 years in the energy industry and has earned her B.B.A. in Business Computer Systems from the University of New Mexico (U.N.M.) Anderson School of Management and is in pursuit for her Executive M.B.A. to graduate in May 2023.
Sheila also serves at a national level on the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) Executive Committee. She has been sought out as a speaker and panel member at various conferences, summits, and events, which include discussions around portfolio and program management, integration of organizational change management in technology deployments, IoT in the utility, and energy industry mobility strategies.
In an interview with Utilities Tech Outlook Magazine, Sheila Mendez, Director Utility Applications & IT PPMO, talks about the latest trends that have been impacting the utility space lately.
What are some of the major challenges and trends that have been impacting the utility space lately?
We are currently looking at demand response technologies, energy storage, and microgrids. We are exploring how to build out and expand our electric vehicle infrastructure across the state. We are also looking at advanced control systems, expanding our telecommunications network, and distribution system planning, all of which contribute to grid modernization.
In terms of grid modernization, we are constantly thinking of how to enhance the grid to be very resilient, meet the demands of the 21st century, and improve security to be able to protect it from any kind of attack with the proper technologies and infrastructure in place.
Which are some of the technological trends which excite you for the future of utility space?
PNM Resources has a robust security practice and proper protocols in place to stay ahead of the attacks that occur around us—both at a physical and cyber level. Moreover, in light of the New Mexico Energy Transition Act, passed into law in 2019, with the target to become carbon free by 2045, we are trying to attain that status five years earlier. So we have been taking the steps necessary to expand our renewable footprint across the state, modernize our grid, and successfully entered the Western Energy Imbalance Market (EIM) in the second quarter of 2021.
Can you tell us about the latest project that you have been working on and what are some of the technological and process elements that you have leveraged to make the project successful?
One of my most recent involvements has been PNM’s entry into the Western Energy Imbalance Market (EIM) on April 1, 2021. PNM is a subsidiary of PNM Resources in New Mexico. I was asked by our executive leadership to lead this two-year initiative and worked with a cross-functional team and partners inside out outside our company. The EIM is a real-time wholesale energy trading market that enables participants anywhere in the western U.S. to buy and sell energy when needed. This process dispatches the lowest cost resources to address energy imbalances, while maintaining reliability and improving the integration of renewable energy.
"In terms of grid modernization, we are constantly thinking of how to enhance the grid to be very resilient, meet the demands of the 21st century, and improve security to be able to protect it from any kind of attack"
Another program that we’re just getting started with is our enterprise drone program. We are currently going through an evaluation period, looking at military-grade drones that have been validated by the Department of Defense and are applicable to the services and utility, such as incident management line inspections and expansions, and even drafting for our G.I.S. platform. We’re also exploring ways to deliver processes and Architecture-as-Service (AaS) to our internal customers to maintain the security and infrastructure required to continue expanding. Thus, we’re starting with a smaller scope and gradually extending it to include additional services such as vegetation management.
On a national level, I am a member of the EPRI Artificial Intelligence Executive Committee, focused on operationalizing foundational AI capabilities at EPRI and accelerating AI related research in the energy sectors, building an AI-Electric Power Industry Community and bringing value through collaboration with other organizations to drive AI solutions to compelling challenges for the future energy system.
Would you like to give a piece of advice for the beginners as to how should they approach this industry?
The most pertinent advice I have is not to be afraid of change but embrace it as a means of preparing for the future. Have a profound curiosity in what is happening in the industry and learn from others rather than starting something from scratch. Partner with vendors and industry leaders to solve problems and share ideas. Secondly, make time to build your professional network. Seek out a leader to mentor you and cherish their guidance. Love what you do. This industry is changing and there are exciting times ahead.
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