Reader Profile: Nicole Kristi Rodrigues

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With the California goal of 100% clean power by 2045, Nicole Rodrigues, an energy operations electrical engineer in the Heating and Cooling System Department of Stanford University, says she believes the first step to get from where the state is now to reaching its potential is rooted in 100% electrification, including heating and cooling systems. “Although cogen systems have high efficiencies receiving heat and power via burning fuel, I believe total electrification is needed to reach California’s commitment to 100% renewable energy and much more solar generation and energy storage will be needed with the evolution of a carbon-free grid,” she says. Increased power reliability correlates with increased preventive maintenance and visibility of a fault location, says Rodrigues. “Visibility of fault locations is already achieved on most systems via the inclusion of fault indicators on systems—this speeds up the process of finding where the fault occurred and isolating that location,” she adds. “However, preventive maintenance often requires temporary power shutdowns of select locations to ensure worker safety while performing maintenance.” While preventive maintenance shutdowns aren’t popular with customers, components of systems fail when beyond their lifetime due to old cable or other aging equipment, she says. “A way to prevent unplanned power outages and increase reliability is to perform regular maintenance on our aging grid,” says Rodrigues, adding that such measures of maintenance of trees near overhead lines is needed for increased reliability.

What She Does Day to Day
“I have the pleasure of interacting with many people day to day,” says Rodrigues, adding that her work varies daily as an energy operations electrical engineer. “I spend some days at my desk reviewing electrical plans for building construction and other days in the field meeting with contracting engineers and project managers walking a site.” Other portions of her time are spent keeping tabs on projects in construction, planning location of and sizing infrastructure required for power to proposed new locations, troubleshooting systems, and responding to issues experienced on the university’s grid. Despite the changes in tasks that each day brings, her goal never changes: “to ensure safe and reliable power to all of the campus,” notes Rodrigues.

What Led Her Into This Line of Work
As a seventh-grade student, Rodrigues created a motion-sensitive sprinkler system to prevent dogs and cats from defecating on her family’s lawn. She took the project to the Santa Clara County Science Fair. “It was there when someone first told me I should think about becoming an engineer,” says Rodrigues. She took that advice to heart, attending the University of California, Irvine, to earn a B.S. degree in electrical engineering, specializing in semiconductor and optoelectronic devices. “After an internship in hardware engineering and an internship at the Santa Clara Valley Water District, I realized my interest was in power engineering,” says Rodrigues. “I received my M.S.E degree from Arizona State University, Tempe, in electrical engineering, specializing in energy and power systems. It’s been exciting that my interest in ‘green’ engineering also has been interwoven with my career path.”

What She Likes Best About Her Work
Rodrigues says she enjoys the variability and challenge of her daily work and the teamwork she experiences daily as each member of the team works together toward a common goal. “I look forward to going to work every day and being part of a team,” she adds. Rodrigues enjoys giving back to the community and volunteers with initiatives that promote females in STEM fields.

Her Greatest Challenge
Rodrigues says she has a knack for puzzles and constantly seeks ways to challenge herself to become a better problem-solver and electrical engineer. In a previous job, Rodrigues worked on time current curve coordination, short circuit analysis, and arc flash analysis. “Each of those categories relate to each other. It was sometimes like apuzzle to coordinate all three to reach optimal system protection with lower arc flash hazards,” she says. “The similarities of my job to solving puzzles keeps my day-to-day very interesting. There’s nothing I’d rather do. I enjoy the challenges.” Rodrigues notes that currently, time has proven to be her greatest challenge. “There is so much to do and it takes a long time to chip away at it sometimes,” she says. 

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