Utilities Seek Fresh Talent for Smart Grids - 18 Jan 2011

The distribution system that power companies in the US are responsible for are on the cusp of a major technological overhaul. The federal government and utilities are spending billions of dollars to upgrade the electric grid with intelligent digital technology so they can vary a customer’s price for power based on the time of day and more seamlessly integrate electricity from a variety of sources like wind and solar. 

The upgrade would give the power generation and distribution network the sort of nervous system it has lacked. By some estimates, the smart grid could help reduce electricity use by more than 4% a year by 2030 and save $20b a year for utilities and their customers. 

The Energy Department estimated that some 30,000 workers would be trained because of the grants, which range from $87,000 for the Preparing Occupations for Lineman Education, or Pole, program at the Austin Community College District to $5 M to Florida Power & Light to develop its Gateway to Power Program, which aims to bring industry and academia together to develop power systems and smart grid education. 

In addition to replacing roughly 110,000 analog electric meters in customers’ homes with digital meters that can transmit data to and from the utility in real time, A.E.P. working with Silver Spring Networks and other companies will deploy and test a full menu of interconnected grid technologies, like digital management, distribution networks, plug-in hybrid cars and smart appliances. 

To address the shortage of trained workers, utilities have been working jointly through organizations like the Center for Energy Workforce Development, which concluded in a survey last year that retirements and attrition would force the energy industry to replace roughly half of its engineers and skilled technicians by 2015. The organization recently received a $1.37M grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to train low-income adults in eight states for careers in the power industry, and it has also developed the Get Into Energy career pathways program, aimed at luring young people, ex-military personnel and engineers into utility work. 

Source: NY Times, Dec 29

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