A Mission to Innovate
Timothy Fritch Earns Engineer of the Year Award
Growing up in the small town of Dunlap, Tennessee, Timothy Fritch had a natural inclination to tinker.
Curiosity drove him.
It wasn’t long before he discovered a passion for electrical engineering — a passion that has only grown stronger over the years.
His commitment and contributions to the world of engineering were recognized this week during a celebration in Chattanooga, where he received Tennessee Valley Authority’s Engineer of the Year award.
And as Fritch sees it, it all started with a RadioShack lab kit.
He can remember it still. A brightly colored kit, equipped with flickering lights and fans that would run with the touch of a wire.
As a kid, he quickly learned that manipulating the wires would create different effects. Hook a wire here and a light bulb flickers. Hook another wire there and the fan kicks on.
He lost himself for hours, looping wires to little probes, experimenting with different configurations and observing the results.
“I’ve always enjoyed understanding how things work together,” Fritch said.
That early fascination with the inner workings of machines led him to a 20-year career at TVA, where he now serves as a reliability analysis manager in Transmission and Power Supply.
Fritch started as an intern on TVA’s Transmission, Operation and Maintenance team. After graduating in 2004 with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Tennessee Technological University, he joined the team full time.
At the outset, he faced a decision: mechanical or electrical engineering?
But the internship with TVA in his sophomore year of college had already solidified that for him – and the rest is history.
“I learned a lot as an intern in that group,” Fritch said. “When I saw the kind of work they were doing and got that exposure to TVA’s focus on increasing and maintaining reliability, I knew this was the right field for me.”
Fritch now serves as a mentor to TVA interns, and he works with several universities to connect with young engineers seeking pathways to rewarding careers.
He keeps an eye out for self-driven interns and entry-level engineers who value deep learning and a strong work ethic.
After 20 years of service at TVA, he continues to discover new ideas, inspired each day by those around him – and by the endless possibilities and fulfilling challenges.
He enjoys sharing that passion with the next generation.
His advice to emerging engineers? Stick with it.
“Engineering can be hard,” he said. “Some people breeze through college, but not me. It took a lot of hard work.
“I enjoy supporting folks at TVA that have gone through something similar, especially interns. It’s a passion of mine.”
Lead From Behind
Fritch leads the 14-member TVA Reliability Analysis team that plans and coordinates transmission outages and studies the effects that transmission and generation outages, varying load levels and other factors have on the transmission grid.
The team ultimately works to devise outage schedules and operating procedures that can preemptively address any issues.
And they’ve been wildly successful.
Over the past three years, they've identified more than 250 improvements that have resulted in average savings north of $6 million in labor and generation redispatch.
When the most recent winter storm hit, Fritch and his team played a key role – along with transmission operators and reliability operators – in identifying risk and mitigations ahead of time to support grid integrity.
In the calm before the storm, Fritch and his team members huddled over transmission system models, analyzing and predicting how the grid would perform under high demand.
In fact, this work began months before any storm was forecasted, with the Reliability Analysis and Transmission field operations teams collaborating on winter assessments.
“We helped identify several concerning outages scheduled for the winter,” Fritch said. “The teams in the field did an exceptional job of working with us.”
The steps TVA has taken to harden generators and plan ahead for potential scenarios have gone a long way, Fritch said.
“My team, along with transmission operators, looked at every different scenario of what could happen on the transmission grid and how to address it,” he said. “I am very proud of my team and all those involved in how well this has gone.”
Shaping an Industry
Beyond his role in Reliability Analysis, Fritch has represented TVA at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, commonly referred to as NERC.
He has led committees for several years, focusing on protocols for synchro phasors – a field device that provides enhanced insight into the operation of the grid.
“We’re helping lead the industry, probably more so than ever, with new technology,” he said. “And we’re sharing what we learn for the betterment of the industry.”
The experience has helped him build relationships and foster a deep appreciation for TVA’s mission of service.
“We have a great mission here at TVA,” he said. “We are here to serve the Valley region and maintain reliability.
Eighth of an Inch
As an avid woodworker of many years, Fritch understands the profound impact small details can have on a project.
In the world of woodworking, much like in engineering, the devil is in the details.
A mere eighth of an inch can be the deciding factor between a cabinet drawer that glides smoothly and one that sticks, or a dining table that wobbles and one that stands firm.
When he’s not at the helm of TVA’s Reliability Analysis team, Fritch takes to his wood shop, immersing himself in intricate pieces of oak and walnut.
That passion is a reset from the challenging role he plays in maintaining the structure and integrity of the power grid.
Beyond the professional sphere, he’s a father to three daughters, a husband, a coach to his daughter’s basketball team and a deacon at his church.
In each role, he brings meticulous attention to detail and steadfast commitment.
As the recipient of TVA’s Engineer of the Year award, he’ll now represent TVA during the Federal Engineer of the Year awards in Washington.
It’s a humbling recognition, he said, and he’s proud to represent TVA.
But the real credit goes to the many TVA team members who help ensure the enterprise can continue to deliver reliable, resilient power, he said.
"I will be proud to carry the TVA flag for them,” Fritch said.
Visit TVA’s Transmission page to learn more about grid reliability.