2005 Distinguished Achievement Award: Thomas Overbye

// Electrical & Computer Engineering

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Thomas J. Overbye
Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, IL

Throughout his 22-year engineering career, Thomas J. Overbye has distinguished himself as an outstanding educator, a successful entrepreneur, and a top researcher in the field of electric power transmission and grid behavior. An electrical and computer engineering professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Overbye is known for his ability to combine deep, analytical insights into the complex dynamics of power grids with his practical industry experience. He is also the founder of PowerWorld Corporation, a leading developer of software that has improved the accuracy and efficiency of power system analysis.

As an assistant professor in the early 1990s, Overbye witnessed dramatic changes in the U.S. utility industry epitomized by the state of California’s efforts to deregulate its power markets. After observing that individuals with limited knowledge of power-system behavior were crafting many of the key policies driving deregulation, Overbye created PowerWorld Simulator to facilitate more informed decision-making. The software not only depicts a wide range of physical phenomena in the nation’s power grid with extreme accuracy, but also allows non-specialists to see how proposed regulatory and business decisions will interact with these phenomena. Since the founding of PowerWorld in 1996, Simulator‘s success has far exceeded that of many long-standing packages offered by more established companies. In recognition of his creation and transfer of Simulator to the marketplace, in 2005 Overbye received the first annual Alexander Schwarzkopf Prize for Technological Innovation from the I/UCRC Association, an organization of past and present members of the National Science Foundation’s Industry/University Cooperative Research Center program. Overbye has also become a highly respected science commentator in the press, appearing many times in the national media following the August 2003 blackout in the eastern United States.

Overbye holds a BS, MS and PhD in electrical engineering from UW-Madison. While earning his master’s and doctoral degrees, he also worked as a transmission engineer for the Madison Gas & Electric Co., helping to develop its real-time power system analysis software. He is the author of more than 90 scholarly publications and the recipient of numerous honors, including the IEEE Third Millennium Medal and the Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer award. He and his wife, Jo, have three children: Tim, Hannah and Amanda. In the spare time his work and family allow, Overbye enjoys riding his bicycle through the flat central Illinois countryside — a welcome change, he says, from biking the hills around Madison.