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ECE’s NEETRAC Celebrates 25 Years of Success, Looks Forward to the Future

Atlanta, GA
NEETRAC researchers and staff

NEETRAC researchers and staff

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What is a NEETRAC? Many have heard the name, but are not really sure what it means. NEETRAC is the National Electric Energy Testing Research and Applications Center located off campus in Forest Park, Georgia near the Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. They are an electric energy-focused, industry-supported center that is part of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and they celebrated their 25th Anniversary on October 27. NEETRAC’s impressive facilities are spread out across a 20-acre property and their prime customers include electric utilities and companies that provide products and services to utilities. 

In 1996, Georgia Power was downsizing. The Georgia Power Research Center was one of the departments that was on the chopping block. The department employees were told they would not be absorbed by the company as a part of their efforts to cut costs according to an article written by senior researcher, Mr. Raymond Hill entitled, “25 Years at NEETRAC - A Dinosaur’s Perspective.” In this article, Hill states that at the time there were many at Georgia Power as well as their parent company, The Southern Company, who were graduates of Georgia Tech. Additionally, the Research Center and Georgia Tech had worked on many mutually beneficial projects together, so it only seemed right for Georgia Tech to be given the opportunity to take on this amazing facility. Hill was a leading researcher when the lab belonged to Georgia Power, and is still with the organization today, although retirement is currently on his mind. Since the research efforts of the Georgia Power lab aligned with ECE at Georgia Tech, the details were worked out, the department was turned over to Georgia Tech in 1996, and NEETRAC was born. 

NEETRAC conducts project research for industry leaders and manufacturers, as well as with campus faculty and students. Currently, NEETRAC has 37 members consisting of small-, medium-, and large-sized utility companies and utility manufacturers located throughout North America. These companies pay a membership fee to support this lab and continue important research needed in the utility industry. NEETRAC is managed by former, now interim, Director Rick Hartlein who oversees the day-to-day operations of the facility and also works to increase membership, utility awareness, and manages member relations amongst many other duties. There is a membership-based Advisory Board, which advises the Director on the scope of research projects to conduct at NEETRAC. They also have a member Management Board, which recommends specific projects to fund as Baseline projects, which are projects that all members wish to financially support and from which they can collectively benefit. A number of these board members serve as Technical Advisors on specific projects to help determine the scope and activities of those projects. Board meetings are held three times a year at which time Baseline project updates are provided for the members. Proposals for new projects are also presented at the Board meetings, where members discuss the proposal scope and vote on whether to fund the project.

NEETRAC research and testing services help electric utilities increase system reliability, reduce cost, and improve system safety. Studies include reliability and life assessment of many different electric grid components, including underground high voltage power cable systems, connectors, insulators, switches, transformers, and many other grid devices. NEETRAC can also analyze these components when they experience failures in the field. Asset management studies have also become an increasingly important service to NEETRAC members as they work to maximize the reliability of the electric grid. Other services provided by NEETRAC researchers include grounding and surge protection studies, high power testing, high voltage testing, diagnostic testing, as well as large-scale thermal and mechanical testing. Many of the current and previous Senior Research Engineers at NEETRAC are Georgia Tech graduates, so it gives NEETRAC great pride to have them leading much of the project research as Principal Investigators. Making a difference and providing real solutions to problems that many utility companies face is what pushes this group and motivates them to realize such great overall success.

To celebrate their 25th Anniversary, a committee was formed to put together an event that was held on the NEETRAC property in October. Keeping Covid policies and restrictions enforced was a priority for the team as they were planning the event, as well as ensuring that the employees and guests felt comfortable while in attendance. Heartfelt speeches were made by current employees, as well as retirees who were also invited to attend the event. The main sentiment that was echoed by each person who spoke was “look at where we were then, look at where we are now, and look how much we have grown over the years.” Just by looking at the facility, one can see the significant investment in the large-scale, high voltage test equipment needed to conduct NEETRAC’s research activities. As technology has evolved, so has the collaborative research conducted at the NEETRAC facilities. As with anything that is done at Georgia Tech, the researchers and staff think outside the box, and push the limits to create real, sustainable solutions for the problems and challenges facing the electric energy industry.

As a historically successful organization, NEETRAC is looking forward to the next 25 years as they work to provide meaningful research and testing services for their members. They welcome interested faculty, students, and staff to reach out and schedule a visit of their facilities. NEETRAC also welcomes collaborations with campus faculty who may need NEETRAC’s specialized high voltage, thermal, and mechanical testing capabilities on their research projects. Currently, NEETRAC has openings for two Research Engineers. If anyone is interested, they are encouraged to click on the employment tab on the NEETRAC website. To learn more about the Center, visit www.neetrac.gatech.edu.

Writers: Anita Carter, financial administrator III; Rick Hartlein, interim director; and Dylan Summer, quality resource manager. All are employees of NEETRAC and the School of ECE. 

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Last revised November 10, 2021