By David Kligman
Inside every PG&E substation are project drawings that coworkers use as important references for the equipment inside. These design standards include the names of the men and women who have contributed to them, including the electrical engineer who began the standards — Godwin Duru, along with GOD1, his LAN ID or company employee code.
“The endearing play on words was that he was the god of the standards,” said John Randolph, Duru’s former supervisor of eight years. “We used to tell all our new engineers that.”
For years, Duru was the go-to person for questions about substation designs or improvements.
“If anybody tried to do something innovative or unique, they would run it through Godwin,” said Skip Chavis, Godwin’s longtime coworker. “He had his fingerprint or his signature on standards that impact every substation.”
Whether it was the design, grounding, materials, calculations, cables or instructions, Duru and his team helped maintain, improve and develop the standards used today at PG&E’s roughly 900 substations.
Duru doesn’t work for PG&E anymore. He retired five years ago but he said he would have kept working if not for suffering a stroke in 2017, followed by early signs of dementia toward the end of his 39-year career as a PG&E electrical engineer.
Today, the 70-year-old lives at home in Benicia. He’s an example of a colleague respected among his electrical engineering peers but whose work remains well behind the scenes for PG&E customers.
Indeed, his story is one worth recounting and his influence continues through his coworkers and the safety standards he developed. (Duru, impaired by his post-stroke condition, responded to our emailed questions and his sons transcribed his responses for us.)
From Nigeria to California
Duru’s journey to PG&E began in his homeland of Nigeria. Driven by the pursuit of better opportunities and his dream for a career in engineering, he obtained a student visa and used his hard-earned savings to purchase a plane ticket from Lagos, Nigeria, to New York, then San Francisco. He was 23.
Once he arrived in the United States in 1975, he faced numerous challenges. He had no family here, so he worked three jobs while pursuing a community college degree in mathematics. Eventually, he was able to enroll at Sacramento State to study power systems and electrical engineering.
“It was an arduous path, but I persevered with determination and resilience,” Duru said. “Amidst the obstacles, I kept my eyes on the prize.”
During his senior year at college, he attended a job fair and secured an internship with PG&E. At the end of the internship, he was offered a role as an entry-level engineer in Electric Distribution in San Rafael.
It was the perfect job for Duru, who says he became an engineer because of his love for math and science.
“I always had an inclination for troubleshooting and tinkering to fix things,” said Duru, who became a U.S. citizen in 1981.
At PG&E, Duru flourished as an electric distribution planning supervisor, substation engineer and substation standards engineer.
Randolph, his onetime boss, credits Duru with important safety improvements during his career. One was improving and better documenting PG&E’s grounding practices. Another was specifying electrical clearances — that is, how far you must space equipment to prevent flashovers and keep coworkers out of harm’s way from energized equipment.
And he led a successful pilot to integrate protection and automated controls within substations, leading to retrofits at all PG&E substations. He even oversaw the first use of LED lights in our substations.
An inclusive working style
Coworkers described his working style as allowing all voices to be heard and providing a safe space to express their opinions.
The results, they said, were better solutions for PG&E’s substations, which serve as the brains and the nerve center of the electric system. Substations house equipment, protections and automations that safely control and deliver power to homes and businesses.
At the forefront of this work was Duru, who says he’s heartened he was able to build a career at PG&E after arriving in the United States.
Though he has retired, his legacy continues at PG&E with two sons — Chuks and Ony, both electrical engineers like their father. He has three more children with his wife Stella — daughter Odiri, a pharmacist in Georgia; son Ike, a correctional officer in Lodi; and son Ugo, a youth soccer coach in the Bay Area.
Chavis, Duru's coworker, said he was most impressed that his colleague found time when his children were young to attend Santa Clara University to get a master’s degree in electrical engineering management and another electrical engineering master's degree at the University of Idaho.
“To me, that alone says a lot about a person’s character,” Chavis said. “But to do that and contribute to a demanding work environment like we had in substation engineering is something else.”
Ultimately, Duru said, he’s proud of his work at PG&E on behalf of its customers and communities: “My journey has been immensely rewarding.”
His former boss said Duru’s legacy is clear, as well as many others who have contributed to PG&E’s important substation work and improvements.
“He was instrumental and invaluable in moving us forward and helping us innovate,” Randolph said. “He accomplished so much that we’re still using today. And his name will be in those design standards as long as they’re still active.”
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