As our population grows, so too will our energy needs, and the electrical grids will come under increasing strain, especially in times of emergency such as adverse weather conditions, natural disasters or even terror attacks. Maintaining energy security is a significant concern at the moment, and it’s only going to become a greater concern in the future. Our energy needs are dynamic, so we need a dynamic system to deal with them.
Thankfully, the University of Central Florida (UCF) has teamed up with Siemens and opened a new lab to train the next generation of energy engineers, and to provide these students with the tools to stay on top of the situation as we move towards this future of energy uncertainty.
The Digital Smart Grid Lab, situated on the UCF campus, is 660 square feet of educational awesomeness featuring the latest grid monitoring software, simulations, training facilities and hardware, all designed to equip power engineers with tools to tackle the hurdles that they may face in the future.
Aside from energy security concerns, another threat looms not too far off. According to the Department of Energy, the US is facing a jobs crisis, and at the current rate of recruitment the energy industry will not be able to fill the 1.5 million new positions in the sector that will be needed by 2030. The UCF/Siemens partnership is one of many such educational and industry partnerships hoping to address this impending skill shortage early on, by sowing the seeds for future engineers right now, so that the industry may have some fighting chance when the time comes.
Of course, it’s not just about sowing seeds. The industry itself is changing along with the new technologies that become available. Just as the internet and digital communications have evolved, the energy industry is evolving too, and it pays to inject some tech-savvy new blood into the creaky old veins of the grid of old.
One such new technology is the concept of the self-healing grid, and students at the lab will learn to design and test these distribution systems, increasing their theoretical knowledge as well as gaining useful skills which are applicable to industry too.
This carefully designed syllabus has not gone unnoticed by students at the lab.
“Some curricula in general lack what the industry is actually using – it can be more of a research tool for academia,” said Matt Aberman, a student at the lab. “The technology in this lab is the same technology used by industry. It ignites a spark in students for them to be passionate about the energy industry, because while they’re in school they can actually work on something that’s real, that’s right in front of them.”
So. it seems that the key focus at the lab is really offering a relevant and up-to-date hands-on education, to not only fight the impending skill shortage, but to prepare the future workforce with the smart tools they need to respond to dynamically shifting energy demands.
And smart is the key word here.
“Making the power grid smart is a fantastic thing because it will improve lives and the economy,” said Zhihua Qu, chair of UCF’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “The experience students get here will not only make them marketable, but it will make them leaders in the industry. They will innovate probably in ways we haven’t even envisioned yet.”
Forward thinking educational/industrial partnerships of this nature can only be a good thing. They build skills (and jobs), the company gets the graduates that it needs and innovation gets a kick in the pants. Everybody wins.
If Siemens and UCF has any say in the matter, the future of energy security is looking a little brighter. Or at least we will have fewer brown outs.
For more information, visit the University of Central Florida Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
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