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Oral-History:Lionel Barthold

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LIONEL O. BARTHOLD: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, April 16, 1995  
 
LIONEL O. BARTHOLD: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, April 16, 1995  
  
Interview #250 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
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Interview #250 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.  
  
 
== Copyright Statement  ==
 
== Copyright Statement  ==
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Lionel Barthold, an oral history conducted in 1995 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
 
Lionel Barthold, an oral history conducted in 1995 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
  
<br>
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<br>  
  
 
== Interview  ==
 
== Interview  ==
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'''Barthold:'''  
 
'''Barthold:'''  
  
Its roots are really the roots of the power industry itself. I think of the electric power industry as an "invented" industry. There was no demand or clamor for electricity until people like Edison and Steinmetz demonstrated what it was good for. Growth came not so much because people clamored and said, "I need a higher voltage, I need better controls;" it came from the supply side. They saw opportunities, invented them, put them before industry, got them accepted, and built a business. That's really the history of the industry. It's also the origins of the analytical group. It was the real driver of the electric power industry, always looking for something new, a better way to solve a problem, better insight. For example, at the time I started, high voltage direct current was reawakening as an interesting topic; the Analytical group took the lead.  
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Its roots are really the roots of the power industry itself. I think of the electric power industry as an "invented" industry. There was no demand or clamor for electricity until people like Edison and [[Charles Proteus Steinmetz|Steinmetz]] demonstrated what it was good for. Growth came not so much because people clamored and said, "I need a higher voltage, I need better controls;" it came from the supply side. They saw opportunities, invented them, put them before industry, got them accepted, and built a business. That's really the history of the industry. It's also the origins of the analytical group. It was the real driver of the electric power industry, always looking for something new, a better way to solve a problem, better insight. For example, at the time I started, high voltage direct current was reawakening as an interesting topic; the Analytical group took the lead.  
  
 
'''Aspray:'''  
 
'''Aspray:'''  
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'''Barthold:'''  
 
'''Barthold:'''  
  
It broadened the market immensely. Over a period of some five years or so, I was really an entrepreneur making money for GE. During that time I observed that if you looked at the GE organization diagram, which would cover the side of a barn, you could find in Italy and in South America two architect-engineering organizations, Sadi and Sadelme. It struck me that if it was interesting for GE to have an analytical study group to get a better insight into equipment markets, it should be equally interesting for an architect engineer to use the study business to get into civil and construction markets. I talked my boss into letting me set up a business in South America doing just what we did in GE's Schenectady operation. I advertised and hired a fellow in GE's turbine department, but who had a very good system background and was from South America. We trained him a little and then he went down and he set up a company called ESIN. It prospered, and was eventually our competitor when we formed PTI.
+
It broadened the market immensely. Over a period of some five years or so, I was really an entrepreneur making money for GE. During that time I observed that if you looked at the GE organization diagram, which would cover the side of a barn, you could find in Italy and in South America two architect-engineering organizations, Sadi and Sadelme. It struck me that if it was interesting for GE to have an analytical study group to get a better insight into equipment markets, it should be equally interesting for an architect engineer to use the study business to get into civil and construction markets. I talked my boss into letting me set up a business in South America doing just what we did in GE's Schenectady operation. I advertised and hired a fellow in GE's turbine department, but who had a very good system background and was from South America. We trained him a little and then he went down and he set up a company called ESIN. It prospered, and was eventually our competitor when we formed PTI.  
  
 
=== Founding PTI  ===
 
=== Founding PTI  ===

Revision as of 17:05, 10 July 2009

Contents

About Lionel Barthold

Lionel Barthold is a power engineer whose technical and business work at General Electric led him to found his own power studies company, Power Technologies Incorporated (PTI). After serving six years in the merchant marine, Barthold received his bachelor's degree in physics from Northwestern University and went to work for General Electric after his graduation in 1950. He began in GE's cadet engineering program and worked on a variety of assignments, eventually landing in GE's Analytical Engineering group working on power industry problems. After supervising GE's Project UHV, Barthold left GE and founded PTI.

The interview begins with Barthold's early interest in radio, his work as a radio operator in the merchant marine, and his degree work at Northwestern University. Barthold then discusses his career at GE, discussing in particular his work on the EHV/UHV project and in general his background at GE in electric power systems and high voltage. He discusses how his GE work combined technical and business expertise, and how this work triggered his desire to run his own company. He then discusses the founding of PTI, PTI's development of interactive software, its strong points and its growth patterns, its growing internationalization, and its developing relationship with GE. He discusses the growing sophistication of analytical tools for systems studies and the changing needs of power industry in general. He discusses his participation in the IEEE Power Engineering Society (PES) and his desire as president of the PES to re-examine IEEE's mission. The interview concludes with Barthold's comments on the changes he has seen in the power industry and his concerns about the United States' dependence on fossil fuels.


About the Interview

LIONEL O. BARTHOLD: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, April 16, 1995

Interview #250 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Lionel Barthold, an oral history conducted in 1995 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

INTERVIEW: Lionel Barthold
INTERVIEWER: William Aspray
DATE: April 16 1995
PLACE: Schenectady, N.Y.

Family Background and Education

Aspray:

This is the 6th of April, 1995, an interview with Lionel Barthold, in his offices at Power Technologies Incorporated, in Schenectady, New York. Mr. Barthold, would you start by telling us something about when and where you were born, and what your parents did for a living?

Barthold:

I was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, of immigrant parents; my father was Norwegian, my mother Scottish. My father was a professional singer when he could get work; everything from a taxi driver to a farmer when he couldn't. My mother did sewing, so we grew up in a fairly poor setting, but in a very good neighborhood.

Aspray:

As a child, were you interested in hobbies that showed an inclination to science or engineering?

Barthold:

I got very interested in amateur radio in high school. I loved math, but I didn't like to study, so I actually had very poor grades in high school. I never finished. This was during the early forties, and the war was brewing; I quit high school and went into the merchant marine as a radio operator. I intended this as a career.

Aspray:

How did your parents feel about this?

Barthold:

This was the war, and all boys had to go somewhere. They figured this was as good a direction as any I guess!

Aspray:

Did they have particular aspirations for you?

Barthold:

There were five children and they had very high aspirations for all of us. All five got at least to the Bachelor's degree level in college, eventually, and we all did it on our own; they had no way to help us. I spent almost six years in the merchant marines. Then my brother, who was in pre-law at Northwestern talked me into taking a test for admission and I passed. To humor him I took six courses: one semester. When I got my report card back, the grades were all A's. It was quite out of character. And so I went back and forth between the merchant marine and college, eventually deciding that college was a good place. At Northwestern University, I started by majoring in languages, then switched to math, then to physics, and finally I decided I wanted to be an engineer, but I didn't have enough money for the fifth year.

Aspray:

Was there an engineering curriculum at Northwestern?

Barthold:

Yes, a very good five year cooperative program. I loaded up with engineering courses and graduated in physics, giving up any thought of the merchant marine.

Aspray:

Do you think that the training in physics had a good effect on your future career?

Barthold:

I think so. It gives you the technical basis to tackle anything in some depth. It's just the mechanics of engineering and the economic aspects of it that are added in a career. I would not have done anything differently, including the merchant marine.

Aspray:

Why was it you decided you wanted to be an engineer after you graduated?

Barthold:

My interest in physics was truncated a little by my pacifism; the fact that nuclear applications was all the thing in physics, and the fact that one needed a Master's degree for a decent job. I also took some engineering courses, notably from Ed Kimbach, which awoke my interest in electric power. There was something about the power industry that appealed to me; it struck me as useful to society. I was an idealist.

Aspray:

What year did you graduate?

Barthold:

1950.

GE Cadet Engineering Program

Aspray:

What was the job market like then?

Barthold:

It was bad. I sent out something like twenty or thirty résumés. I think I got three offers. One was as a quality control engineer in a steel mill in Gary, Indiana; another was as an apprentice for the Indiana Public Service Company. I took the latter. I worked there for probably eight to ten months and got drafted. I showed the draft board a certificate that said that having been through world war two and losing two ships to torpedoes, I was ineligible for military service. It did not impress the draft board, so I spent two years in the army during the Korean War. They were not my favorite years.

Aspray:

What did you do?

Barthold:

I taught radar and fire control. After that I interviewed at General Electric and Westinghouse. I got a better offer from General Electric than I did from Westinghouse.

Aspray:

And what were you hired to do at GE?

Barthold:

Aside from their well known "test program," GE also had a cadet engineering program, which was more advanced, and allowed you to go actually into a meaningful engineering position, which is what I did with all my electronics background. I started building an automated system for testing personal, a substitute for regular oil in transformers (also rich in PCB). So I spent my first six weeks wading around in and dipping my arms in toxins. From there I went to a switchgear engineering assignment in Philadelphia. A year later I heard of an internal application engineering assignment in power systems, which appealed to me. I sent in an application and was invited to Schenectady. I had to give a talk; I've never been more terrified in my life, but I did it. During the assignment in Philadelphia eventually I got a phone call; I got the job and I just loved it.

Analytic Engineering Group

Aspray:

Was it very difficult to get jobs in the applications area?

Barthold:

Yes they were sought after. At that point in GE there were two similar system groups. One was called "Analytical Engineering," the other "Application Engineering." The Application Engineering program walked you through a number engineering fields and different equipment types, so that you got quite a well-rounded education in power. Then you went out to a field office, Cincinnati or San Francisco or somewhere, and you served as the engineering generalist in that office. There was no slot in Applications Engineering when I arrived here, so I was temporarily put in the Analytical section. I had so much fun there that when it came time to leave and go into Application Engineering, I then (with the complicity of Seldon Crary, who was in charge) refused to leave. They told me I could not be guaranteed a job, but I stayed where I wanted to be.

Aspray:

Can you describe to me what the Analytic group did?

Barthold:

Its roots are really the roots of the power industry itself. I think of the electric power industry as an "invented" industry. There was no demand or clamor for electricity until people like Edison and Steinmetz demonstrated what it was good for. Growth came not so much because people clamored and said, "I need a higher voltage, I need better controls;" it came from the supply side. They saw opportunities, invented them, put them before industry, got them accepted, and built a business. That's really the history of the industry. It's also the origins of the analytical group. It was the real driver of the electric power industry, always looking for something new, a better way to solve a problem, better insight. For example, at the time I started, high voltage direct current was reawakening as an interesting topic; the Analytical group took the lead.

Aspray:

What kind of background did the people who were principles in that group have? Did they have a wide knowledge of the applications areas, or were they just fundamentally knowledgeable about their electrical engineering art?

Barthold:

Their background was quite varied. There were a number of very well known Ph.D.'s who went the traditional route and liked power. To be effective in that area you needed one foot on the ground and one in the sky; you had to know what the world's problems. There were names like Kirchmayer, Crary, Peterson, Johnson, etc.: all very well trained. In contrast, Charlie Concordia was one of the best-known engineers, but he had no particular degree. There were people, like Gabriel Krone, who had degrees not in power, but in math.

Aspray:

What were you assigned to do?

Barthold:

Initially I was assigned to work on a "Transient Network Analyzer" (TNA), which at that point was not an analyzer at all, but a room full of parts (toys as far as I was concerned). It was an analog of the electric power system, capable of modeling the system for electrical transients and switching. You can imagine a young engineer, in love with the theory, walking into a large room with thirty model transformers, model breakers on a rotating drum, model transmission lines, etc., putting them together to represent a system, and then turning it on. The "system" is spread all over the floor, all over the room. To jump forward about thirty years, PTI now manufacturers these; we've sold two to China, one to Mexico, and others in the United States. They're now in tidy panels with nice blinking lights and no wires sticking out.

Aspray:

They're still fundamentally analog devices?

Barthold:

They're analog and digital. There's no iteration. If you go to a surge arrestor model you might just see a microprocessor in there somewhere. And of course all the data acquisition is digital. It's still a very useful analyzer because it's easier to set up a model than on its software equivalent.

Aspray:

Going back to the period we were talking about before, how did problems come to you? How were you assigned to work on things? Did you have a certain amount of freedom to choose what you worked on?

Barthold:

We did get assignments. The idea in those days was if you did some analysis or study for a power company, you'd never charge them for it, but hope they'd buy a transformer or something. Our work was a give-away, and since there was no revenue, the books looked the same whether you were working for yourself or working for a utility company. You therefore had a fair amount of time to just pursue ideas and write papers about them. This was a perfect context in which to begin a career because you had the chance to a lot of writing.

Aspray:

How did the company feel about its employees writing papers?

Barthold:

One of the purposes of a group like that was to keep a high profile for GE in the industry. Papers served that purpose; they didn't hurt the career of the people who wrote them either.

Project Ultra High Voltage

Aspray:

Tell me how your career developed in the company?

Barthold:

That first assignment led to other work. From this first assignment I went to work with Gayle Adams, who was the first guy to build a really quantified working model of corona effects on high voltage conductors. His theory used Eigen vector analysis to represent the propagation characteristics of noise as a function of the configuration of wires. It was a fun problem. Then he helped my career further by resigning! I was left with more than I could handle, but became the new guru of the radio noise problem. About that time GE built project EHV, in Pittsfield, to demonstrate and develop technology for 345 kv and 500 kv. I served as liaison with that project because they were doing a lot of work in corona then. A corporate reorganization put the project underneath the Schenectady operation, and I was named technical director and managed the technical program. The powers that be then saw the folly of running a very expensive program like this without getting anything back for it, and decided to close it down. I argued that GE could make money out of the project if it were sold to the power industry. We worked up a proposal which renamed the project, "Project Ultra High Voltage," raised it to a thousand kilovolts, and sold it to EPRI's predecessor, the Edison Electric Institute. We rebuilt the project, built new towers, cranked up to another voltage level, and got paid.

Aspray:

Were there other organizations that had similar kinds of projects under way?

Barthold:

There was one in the United States, undertaken by AEP. Howard Barnes' (the AEP spearhead) personality was such that he would not be outdone, so they had a fifteen hundred kv project. They paid for it themselves, with some co-operation from ASEA, which eventually formed with Brown Boveri to form APB. In those days people were hypnotized by the idea that transmission lines voltages would continue to go up and up forever, and that generators would get bigger and bigger. People didn't realize that all trends have limits. I began to sense rather early in the UHV project that the technology could be a dead end, that there might never be any UHV in the United States. As it turns out there won't be! And to jump ahead about twenty years, when PTI got into the transmission business, we made quite a living taking the technology that was developed looking forward to UHV, and turning it loose on low voltage lines.

Aspray:

In the long run, was there any business benefit for GE in this project?

Barthold:

They got a lot of identity with high voltage, so they may have gotten some benefit. They don't sell equipment in that area anymore, so if they had gotten out of them sooner, they might be better off.

Expanding Analytical Services

Barthold:

After supervising Project UHV, I got put in charge of all the AC transmission work at GE. At that point they had consolidated the Analytical and Application Engineering groups. Utilities were then being charged both for transient analyzer and systems study work. The minute they started charging for it, demand went up. The benefit to GE also went up. If you go to an engineer in Ohio Edison Co. for example and say, "You know, you really ought to study that problem on an analyzer, and, by the way, there's no charge," the answer would be "Go ahead, here's the data." On the other hand, if you tell him, "That's going to be twenty six thousand dollars," he would say, "I've got to get approval." He would then go to his boss in a selling effort and say, "These guys at GE are the smartest people in the universe, we can't live without them." So all of a sudden people were selling your organization inside their company because they had to justify the work. The entrepreneurial dimension of my work at GE lit another fire. I loved it; I really loved it.

Aspray:

Did this also bring in new customers?

Barthold:

It broadened the market immensely. Over a period of some five years or so, I was really an entrepreneur making money for GE. During that time I observed that if you looked at the GE organization diagram, which would cover the side of a barn, you could find in Italy and in South America two architect-engineering organizations, Sadi and Sadelme. It struck me that if it was interesting for GE to have an analytical study group to get a better insight into equipment markets, it should be equally interesting for an architect engineer to use the study business to get into civil and construction markets. I talked my boss into letting me set up a business in South America doing just what we did in GE's Schenectady operation. I advertised and hired a fellow in GE's turbine department, but who had a very good system background and was from South America. We trained him a little and then he went down and he set up a company called ESIN. It prospered, and was eventually our competitor when we formed PTI.

Founding PTI

Barthold:

At about this time I was getting so much satisfaction from the combination of technical and business aspects of my work that I told a vice president that, within a year, I wanted to manage a business, and that I intended to do that either inside or outside of GE.

Aspray:

Was this a pretty rash thing to do?

Barthold:

It was taken in good spirit, and it was intended in that way. Ten months later I got a phone call from a friend in Atlanta. He owned a transmission line hardware business and wanted me to be President of his company. I told him, I don't want to live in Atlanta. He said, "I'll take no for an answer but I won't take it over the phone." So I took a day off to go see him. Not wanting to waste the trip, I stayed up all night writing a business plan for what turned out to be PTI. I figured here was my source of capital. I sold him (Malcolm Bethea) on the idea. He bought two thirds of the stock, and gave me the proxy for five years, and retained buy back rights. I then began talking to other people to see if they would like to join me; I got six of them. A month before I left, I got a response to my announcement of a year previous: an invitation to go to general manager's school. I may have been the first person in GE's history to say no to that invitation. I didn't want to go to school; I wanted to manage a business! So then came "Black Friday" when I walked in and announced my resignation, as did six other people, and we started PTI.

Aspray:

To what degree had you learned the things you needed to do to run your own company on the job at GE?

Barthold:

A lot of the legal things, contract language and so forth, was new. It was quite a challenge. In fact, I sometimes think that if we had known in advance that dimension of what we were doing, we might not have had the courage to do it. Perhaps it's best we didn't.

Aspray:

What about the financial and marketing sides?

Barthold:

I mentioned that we got capital from an outside investor. I put everything I could borrow beg or steal into it, giving us enough capital to operate, although not for awfully long. We could see our cash position come down perfect linearly. None of us had any borrowing capability left. Then we got our first job, and gradually began to turn around financially. The crisis was when the book value got up to the point where it was exceeding our stock buy-back option. We had to muster enough to buy back two thirds of the stock of the company. This was a very tough challenge, even though we were profitable and on an upswing.

Strategy and Mission of PTI

Aspray:

Did you know what you wanted to do, what this company was going to do, at the time?

Barthold:

What we actually did tracked our vision quite closely. We did not intend to get into the software business, but having left GE without any, we had to write our own. We used a very radical approach, writing software which was interactive. It enhanced our productivity. A customer, looking over our shoulders, was quite impressed and asked if he could buy it. It occurred to us that maybe the answer should be yes. We're now the biggest independent supplier of simulation software to the power industry in the world.

Aspray:

Can you tell me briefly what the business areas were and why there were opportunities there?

Barthold:

Let me back up a bit. The reason I thought this company would work was a simple matter of principle or at least one of perception. If you've got a really difficult technical problem in generation or transmission, and the source of the solution is GE or Westinghouse, you'd better beware since both have an axe to grind. If the choice is between AC and DC, for example, what manufacturer can ignore the fact that the manufactured content is about eight times higher for DC? In fact GE was the wrong source for the kind of advice that my organization was giving to utilities. PTI's scope paralleled the scope that we left in GE, e.g. system studies, transmission lines and distribution, generation cycles, etc. But our big selling point was that we didn't have any equipment relationships. I think that was the basis for our getting a good start. Our continued growth was based on our being technically ahead of the pack.

Relations with GE

Aspray:

How did GE feel about you?

Barthold:

They were very unhappy. We were real villains, accused of all sorts of things. The party line at GE was: these guys are smart, but they've cut themselves off from the source. They'll do good work for a few years, but can't talk to GE's research laboratories any more, can't go around and talk to our manufacturing people, etc. They didn't see the flip side of that. We now talked to ten research labs, people that wouldn't talk to us before. We talked to twenty manufacturers, many of who would never receive us before. Perhaps the strongest gratification came when it became apparent that we were developing another generation of people even smarter than we were at the power engineering game.

Aspray:

Would GE have had the ability to put you out of business?

Barthold:

I don't think so, though there might have been one way. I did not want our departure to hurt GE, so in leaving I told them, "We'll work for you at cost plus fifteen percent." Had they wanted to put us out of business they could have simply bought all the time we had. We would have had no time to sell. The perception would have been (as it was in part anyway) that we were just some trick satellite of GE.

Now, we have very good relations with GE. They're a licensee of our software, and while we compete, in only very few instances do we meet head to head.

Aspray:

Did you indeed hurt GE for a period when the six of you left?

Barthold:

We doubtless hurt the studies business, but I don't think that we made a ripple in their mainstream equipment business. They gradually began to realize that we might succeed and become a purchasing influence. So they had nothing to gain by being nasty to us. I think we have a very professional relationship now.

Growing the Company

Aspray:

What were the greatest challenges in building up the company?

Barthold:

I should point out that's it's an employee-owned company. If you leave, you sell back your stock.

We took the attitude right from the start that we should keep mean and lean. We paid out a lot of money in dividends, and didn't retain much earnings, which kept us nervous! We also put technical pressure on ourselves. We sell software and give courses in what we do, so in a sense we're in the business of putting ourselves out of business! We did so our eyes open, recognizing that it would cause us to run faster so we would always have something new to take to the market. That has been a considerable pressure, but it's been good for us.

Aspray:

Has growth helped PTI?

Barthold:

Yes, it's allowed us to diversify; we have a course business, a software business, and a projects business. We've also diversified into more aspects of the power business. We're about fifty percent international now, with a wholly owned company in England, and joint ventures in Norway, Holland, Turkey, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, New Zealand, Malaysia, and soon in China.

Utility Deregulation

Aspray:

You wanted to say a few words about the difference in doing business in some of these countries, as compared to doing business in the United States?

Barthold:

Both engineering practices and standards are different. You need enough experience with foreign systems to recognize that the solutions that are useful in the United States may not be accepted elsewhere, and may not be good solutions elsewhere. The difference between U.S. and foreign markets has come about more by change in the US industry than change in the international context. The utility industry in the United States is now dramatically different than it was even ten years ago.

It started with the PURPA, an act that forced utilities to buy power from independent generators. Though PURPA was unfair and made the utilities pay too high a price; it started to work. Independent producers, who were often utility customers, started to sell power to utilities. As it began to work better and better, PURPA rules were weakened, and now the generation market is essentially deregulated. When a utility in area A needs new generating capacity, there may be three independent organizations. For example, there may be one within A bidding for it, plus a utility in area B, and one in area C.

It's a free for all. And it works! It has upset the generation market completely. The contention was that it wouldn't work, that you couldn't have a free for all because the transmission system was designed for a specific sitting of generation, and now you're just putting it anywhere. That was the gospel for years. People are now beginning to realize that if you do the arithmetic right and are careful, you can make a deregulated industry work. We're now on the verge of retail wheeling, which means you sit here in Schenectady, connected to Niagara Mohawk, because it's their wires that bring you power, but that someday you could buy your power from Vermont. The attitude of utilities has changed; they're now getting very competitive. They've joined the wave of downsizing, so that the corporate character of the typical utility is unrecognizable from what you'd see ten or fifteen years ago. Their spirit has gone from institutional to entrepreneurial. We used to sell to the technical guys, many of whom are now gone. Today when you put an idea forward, the guy you talk to may not even understand the technology. That's been an upheaval for us because we're used to selling at a technical level. But in another sense it's fun to deal with entrepreneurial people.

Aspray:

So it gives you some new business opportunities?

Barthold:

Yes. It used to be said that the utilities' business was proportional to load, that the manufacturing business proportional to the change in load, i.e., the sale of new equipment. I always thought of our business as being proportional to the confusion in the whole process. If everything were perfectly stable, we might be out of business. When there's turmoil, there are problems, and we're problem solvers. The complexity in power transactions is immense, and that spells software: our business.

Aspray:

Has that shown up in your business performance?

Barthold:

It's too early to say. It has certainly shown up in our emphasis in our software development.

"High Phase Order" Concept

Aspray:

Tell me about some of the technical solutions, innovations, that you've made that you're most proud of.

Barthold:

The one I've had the most fun at started back in my GE days when I was working on radio noise. When you are sending electric energy over the landscape by wires, you can cut a cross section of that transmission line and you'll find the noise in that cross section plane in the form of electromagnetic fields. They are not stored inside the wires but in the air surrounding them. I asked the question back then, what is the intrinsic capability of air for carrying power? How much density could you theoretically have? The answer is astonishing. You could pack all the power carried by a 750 kv line in one square foot if you could stress it correctly. I played around with this for a long time, and it led me to challenge the choice of three phases for transmission lines. Why not six, why not eight, ten, or twelve. If you have a lot of phases you get much closer to the density limit. Instead of raising the voltage, you can increase the number of phases, and have a transmission line with a very high capability, but which is also very compact. I got a patent on the idea, one which has long since run out. At PTI we eventually built a prototype six-phase line, and a twelve-phase line; you can show some remarkable density. If another wave of transmission construction started in the U.S., "High Phase Order" could be very competitive.

Growth in Use of Analytical Tools

Aspray:

How did analytical tools in power engineering develop and evolve over time?

Barthold:

Let me give you an illustration. If you sit in a room exercising some software and reach even the most minute conclusion about an electric power system, you have probably had an impact of hundreds of millions of dollars. Our contention from the beginning of PTI was that the modeling of systems was not accurate enough. We always argued this point with utilities. The reply was, "What's the point of simulating something beyond the accuracy of the data that you've got to put into it," a very reasonable argument. Our answer was, "How will you ever know whether it's important to have more detailed data unless you have a more detailed model to see what the effects would be?" The basic load flow and dynamic simulation models that PTI built were very detailed and could accommodate exact descriptions of controls, governors, generator characteristics, excitor characteristics, etc. We began to show that these details made a tremendous difference. Starting at that point where the models were far more accurate than the data, we got the industry onto a massive program to improve the accuracy and detail of system constants — a program which is still going on.

Aspray:

Have you seen a steady or dramatic increase in the use of analytical tools, or in the sophistication of analytical tools over the last thirty years?

Barthold:

A tremendous growth! In the fifties and early sixties people solved network flow problems on an analog device, where you plugged a line in, looked at the meters, and actually walked up to a panel and set generator characteristics by hand. This developed a very strong intuitive understanding of the way systems worked. A lot of very famous engineers emerged in the power industry because they had the intuitive insight that came from hands-on work with that model. In contrast, early digital load flows and stability programs developed little or no intuitive skills. You put constants in and they gave you a curve. You never really felt part of what was happening. Then came interactive software which did more for intuition-building than the analog.

We found that after a utility bought our interactive software; and got to learn it, you could go back a year later and find the quality of the engineer's thinking dramatically improved. The danger now is that with pressures to reduce engineering staff, people can try to substitute software for technical insight instead of using it as a way to leverage insight. The temptation is to think that if you have the right software you don't have to understand the physics of the problem. That's dangerous.

Aspray:

Are you seeing this mostly in the utility companies?

Barthold:

Not in all, but in some. You see an attitude that "I'm not in the detail business, my purpose is planning, and I want software that will give me the right answer," a dangerous game. If you had fifty high-class, deep-thinking system engineers in a utility planning group, I could see the argument for reducing it to one, and leveraging him. Leveraging is okay; substitution is dangerous.

Aspray:

What about the displacement of analog by digital equipment?

Barthold:

That progression was predictable, as were the bumps in the road. With the controls and protective relaying, we went through the normal stage of trying to make a digital solution emulate a mechanical solution. This is like the early days of automobile evolution in which cars looked like buggies. We had to go through that. But now digital solutions are far superior.

Aspray:

I hear of the use of analog devices in the power industry in one application area after another. What's striking to me about the power engineering field is that there are still so many areas where analog solutions are used, I suppose because of the need for real time solutions or the difficulties in doing some things with digital techniques.

Barthold:

That's natural because when you're responsible for the lights being on all over the state of New York, you're not apt to move very quickly in adopting a new technology.

IEEE and Power Engineering Society

Aspray:

When did you join the AIEE?

Barthold:

Probably about 1950. I suppose I got drawn into it through the work I was doing and the fact that this work logically converted into papers, and papers meant presenting and committee participation.

Aspray:

Were you active while you were at GE?

Barthold:

Yes. GE was very supportive. It was good for them too, good to have their people mingling with customers and identified with the early stages of new technology. A lot of it did lead to equipment innovations. One of my group's jobs was to interpret trends in the industry as it effected new product requirements. As a result we had a lot of contact with GE product departments. Looking back on a career, everyone has a mentor or two that you'd like to thank. My first boss at GE, Gene Hunter, thought it important that I am a part of committees; he sponsored me for membership on a lot of different committees. Then he set up a co-authored paper for me in CIGRE, suggested me for CIGRE committees, and coached me in all of this. So I can't take full credit for having earned a lot of those assignments alone.

Aspray:

Did you find volunteer work for the professional societies fulfilling?

Barthold:

I've never been strong for chapter or section meetings, because I have too many interests. I like to build boats, I like to make furniture, I like to sail, ski and everything. But I've found the power engineering society itself extremely satisfying. I was president of PES for three years, a term and a half, and got very caught up in it. I promoted chapter activities even though I can't say I was too active in them! I enjoyed that involvement in the Power Engineering Society very much, although I had a little less enthusiasm about the IEEE as whole.

Aspray:

Why is that?

Barthold:

I had a lot of ideas about what I thought IEEE itself should do as it entered its second century, and fought a lot of campaigns while president of PES. I lost all of them.

Aspray:

Can you give me a couple of examples?

Barthold:

I'll give you one. I felt on the hundredth anniversary that a total re-examination of the institute would make sense. We could look at where we had been, where we were going, how we related to other societies internationally and nationally, and how we were structured, in terms of technical disciplines. I wrote memos about this idea, talked to people about it, but I didn't get anywhere. I'm still amused that people who volunteer twenty or thirty hours of time a week would defend their jobs as though they were getting paid a million dollars a year. They felt threatened because they could see that some of the ideas I had would change the volunteer structure. The top staff of IEEE also felt threatened.

Aspray:

What are your thoughts about IEEE now?

Barthold:

When I think about IEEE I think mainly about the Power Engineering Society. You'll be interested that, at a point immediately before my reign as president, there was some thought that (1) since the Power Engineering Society was making a lot of money, and (2) the IEEE itself was in trouble, that we should secede! We hired a lawyer to talk about it. The IEEE and the lawyer eventually reminded us that we had no legal identity as a "society," so we had no organization to take away. We were also gently reminded that legal fees for such consultation were not an appropriate charge of the society.

The Power Engineering Society still does a very good job. I'm pleased that they have dropped the word transnational and now use the word international. I'm pleased to see them planning a major meeting in Europe. I think that CIGRE has stood still in a changing world, leaving a big opportunity open for IEEE. I'm an optimist, and I pay my dues.

Changes in Power Industry

Aspray:

What kinds of things haven't we talked about, as part of your career and things you'd like to talk about?

Barthold:

It's interesting to me to witness the change of the industry itself. It's gone through some dramatic cycles, where one fuel was good, and then a decade later it was bad, and then good again and bad again. When I entered the scene, eminent domain was a perfectly legal thing; you needed a line, you built it. You could ignore transmission and locate generation close to fuel cooling water. Transmission was cheap enough that whatever it took to couple generation to the system was still cheap. This has changed completely now. You cannot build transmission anymore, so the transmission is fixed. Now you put the generation where it can be accommodated, rather than the transmission. It's quite a flip. Some things make me very optimistic about the future: the idea of free access, retail wheeling and competitiveness will drive technology forward. Ways of enhancing transfer capability that people have known about for years are now being developed because somebody's interested in doing it. It's good and it's economic. So I think the consumer will be served better, as will the shareholders in the utilities. What bothers me is that the idea of free generation market, smaller plants, and independent producers is locking the United States into a fossil fuel base. I think that it's likely that in ten, fifteen or twenty years, global warming will be so dramatic that we'll have to back away from that base and go to a benign nuclear source, which by virtue of economy of scale will require us to centralize again.

Aspray:

Do you want to speak to either environmental or regulatory concerns?

Barthold:

I guess I'd sum it up by saying that anything that complicates life for the industry is good business for us. We're problem solvers.

Aspray:

Thanks very much.