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Prepping Power Engineers for the Smart Grid

June 19, 2012 - 4:01pm


This video examines electrostatic induction, a phenomenon that means a conductive object in the vicinity of a power line may have energy coupled to it even if it's not connected to the line. Check out the other videos created by the partnership Bonneville Power Administration, Washington State University and the Northwest Workforce Training Center for Electric Power Engineering on their Smart Grid YouTube playlist.

Power engineers of tomorrow will be designing, operating, and maintaining renewable energy sources and smart grid technologies. In the meantime, a new Energy Department-funded training program aims to prepare today’s engineers for the nation’s clean and smart energy future.

In 2010, the Energy Department awarded Washington State University researchers a $2.5 million grant to develop a set of courses in clean energy and smart grid engineering as part of a nationwide smart grid workforce training project.

The training program strengthens existing power engineering degree programs and supports the development of an undergraduate certificate, graduate level certificates and a professional master’s degree in the area of clean energy and smart grid engineering. There’s also an online course component designed for current power industry professionals.

“Not only does this training prepare the next generation of power engineers for the evolving electrical industry, it benefits current engineers who will now beable to receive an undergraduate certificate or graduate training that willallow them to become more involved in research and development,” according to Brian Silverstein, Bonneville Power Administration’s senior vice president for Transmission Services.

As part of the power engineering curriculum, BPA partnered with WSU and the Northwest Workforce Training Center for Electric Power Engineering to develop a series of videos that look at three common high-voltage transmission phenomena: corona, electrostatic induction and conductor or power line sag.

The videos feature tests that were conducted at BPA’s High Voltage Lab in Vancouver, Wash., which is the only facility of its kind in the Northwest that can conduct experiments in high-voltage grid technologies.

The demands of a smarter energy future aren’t the only challenge facing the electric power industry. Many existing university and training programs for power engineers don’t have the resources to incorporate clean energy and smart grid technologies into their curriculum. Meanwhile, a third of the industry’s workforce is eligible for retirement in the next 10 years.

“This program fills a tremendous void and helps ensure that the United States doesn’t fall behind in the rapid advancement of energy and smart electric power grid technologies,” said Robert Olsen, associate dean for undergraduate programs, WSU College of Engineering and Architecture.

The training program is managed by Washington State and University of Washington, the largest engineering colleges in the Northwest. The universities are collaborating with Pacific Northwest National Labs, Incremental Systems, Inc., Areva T&D, BPA, Avista Utilities, Puget Sound Energy, Tacoma Power, Snohomish PUD, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Northwest Public Power Association.

Three courses were introduced last fall, and 180 students registered for Power Engineering Fundamentals, Power Electronics for the Smart Grid and Cleaning Traditional Energy Systems. Another 165 students have enrolled in program courses this spring.