Energy Storage, Executive Insight, Generation, Smart Grid

How did you get your Start in the Grid?: Johannes Reinschke of Fluence

The latest in EL&P’s How did you get your Start in the Grid?” series features Johannes Reinschke, chief technology officer of Fluence, the recently formed energy storage joint venture of Siemens and AES Corp.

Reinschke talks about his origins in the industry, getting interested in electricity at a young age and how AI will “augment” but not replace technical knowledge in the field. He worked at Siemens for nearly two decades before moving over to head up Fluence’s technology, development and system modeling for energy storage.

“How did you get your Start in the Grid?” features on the fourth Wednesday of every month. See the bottom of the story for links to previous features.

How did you get your start in the grid?

“I got started in electric power technologies as part of Siemens Corporate Technology, working on various projects focused on electric vehicle infrastructure, especially DC fast charging. After that, I was head of a research group at Siemens Corporate Technology on electrical energy management and power converter control, and thus found my way into working on energy storage technology.”

 Was there someone or some event from your childhood or youth that inspired you to be interested in electricity or the power sector?

“I did a lot of experiments as a child —you know, kits that let you build motors, telephones, electrical circuits… starting with those, I then designed my own small printed circuit boards (PCBs). I also disassembled old radios and TV sets, and experimented with modifying them, before I got seriously interested in computers. That together set me on a path to science and technology. What fascinated me was the versatility, what you could do with this kind of thinking, with these skills.”

 What is the most important thing you’ve learned on the way up?

“Science and technology, whether in an academic or corporate setting, is very much a people business – you have to learn to calibrate within a team. My professional career started as “individual contributor” and progressed as project and program manager up to overseeing a small R&D department, so I learned this first-hand. That evolution—from someone who develops and invents something on his own, to working within a team to someone who manages a team—that’s what I had to learn over time.”

 You spent 18 years with Siemens before the Fluence joint venture with AES and had numerous patents filed from your work. Can you tell us a little bit about one in particular that makes you most proud?

“Well, the difficulty with patents is that (a) it typically takes several years until they are being granted, and (b) technical intricacy and business impact may not coincide. What I am proud of is that I have been able to do innovative work in my different fields, not only in the electricity and power sector, but also in the metals and paper industry, in healthcare, and in the area of electric vehicle drive trains and infrastructure.”  

 Any big dead ends or mistakes made along the way that ended up being blessings in disguise?

“That usually happens when you’re in a research or pre-development facility and come up with something innovative, even transformative, but that doesn’t have immediate market potential. Together with a project team, I worked for several years on an innovation in healthcare technology. That innovation seemed like a great solution to a problem, but in the end didn’t make sense for a number of reasons in the marketplace. It was immediately after the end of that healthcare project that the electric vehicle infrastructure topic came up, which guided me to energy storage technology.”

 Why did Siemens decide to get into the JV with AES… what is it about energy storage that has attracted your companies in recent years?

“Bringing together the “components” of Fluence – AES Energy Storage and Siemens’ energy storage teams, technologies, capabilities and sales reach – is a very complementary fit. AES helped pioneer battery-based energy storage on the electric grid, has developed and operated power plants augmented by storage as well as standalone storage systems. Siemens took its own path to storage, via developing and manufacturing storage-specific power electronics and stationary battery storage solutions. Bringing together our respective sales, project execution and development expertise and experience is a very good combination and will set Fluence up to lead the market as a provider of energy storage technology and services.”

 Everyone at DTECH talked about data as the most important resource in coming years. Is there a danger of getting too deep into the weeds on this?

“In my view, data mining, machine learning and artificial intelligence methods don’t replace technical knowledge but may augment it in areas where there is a lack of qualitative or quantitative technical understanding based on “first principles”. For instance, when I started at Siemens more than 18 years ago, we used data-driven models and neural networks to generate friction and yield strength models for the process automation of steel and aluminum sheet rolling. These data-driven models based on neural networks are still in use today.

“The ever increasing computing power and data storage capacity as well as the advances in theory and software implementation of artificial intelligence methods now allow these methods to be applied to many more areas than previously thought of. Is there a danger of getting too deep into the weeds on this? Yes, I think there is a danger of seeing a need for data on everything, resulting in unselective and unrestricted data collection—data that might either not be used at all or perhaps be misused later on.  So, data collection should be well thought of and justified by a reasonable purpose.”

We know you work hard. What do you do for fun?

“I like singing and playing the piano in my spare time.”

 Any famous mottos or quotes that you use as a daily guide? Does it explain your goals in life?

“I don’t have a particular motto or quote as a daily guide. Generally, I would like make good use of my time and talent, and I would like to be of help to the people I am with – both at work and at home. I believe it will always be a challenge to make the right decisions and set the right priorities with these goals in mind.”

Editor’s Note: Contact Senior Editor Rod Walton at [email protected] if you know of a good candidate for the Start in the Grid series. Below are the other features from past months:

Kate Cummings of G&W Electric

Matt Kennedy of Doble Engineering.

Jennifer Didlo of AES Southland    

Ben Fowke of Excel Energy

Fidel Marquez of ComEd  

Kelly Speakes-Backman of Energy Storage Association  

Russ Vanos of Itron   

Brian Slocum of ITC   

Rick Riley of Entergy Arkansas   

Greg Ferree of Southern California Edison