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A Smart Grid Infrastructure Demands Increased Engineering Smarts

Managing a smart grid infrastructure requires training the next generation of power engineers.

Developing power engineers who understand the smart grid demands of a growing population represents a critical need, state Professors Tomislav Bujanovic and Prasanta Ghosh from Syracuse University.

This image shows Professor Tomislav Bujanovic with students in Syracuse University's Smart Grid lab.

This image shows Professor Tomislav Bujanovic with students in Syracuse University’s Smart Grid lab.

The two professors represent the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department in Syracuse’s University’s College of Engineering.

According to a news release issued today, when power is running efficiently, most people take it for granted.

However, “The network that delivers the electricity to keep the power running, also known as the grid, has sometimes been pushed to its limits. High demand not only leads to potential blackouts, increased operational costs increase. At the same time, the grid is being asked to do more than just distribute power in today’s interconnected world.”

Thus there is a critical need to develop a new generation of power engineers who can build and operate a “smart grid” that incorporates diverse renewable energy sources, advances in control systems, communications, signal processing, and cybersecurity.

Last March the Wall Street Journal reported that a terrorist attack on just nine of the country’s 55,000 electric substations could cause a coast-to-coast blackout — especially on a hot summer’s day.

So much for expecting to charge a smart phone on demand, or powering up an EV.

Coursework for the 21st Century

The College offers modernized power and new smart grid courses to graduate and undergraduate students. It also hosts a smart grid lab that provides hands-on experience. These courses, along with the lab, were developed through grants from the US Department of Energy.

In a recent paper presented at the Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education, Bujanovic and Ghosh provided examples of the hands-on experiments electrical engineering students are conducting as part of their undergraduate coursework. Students apply the theoretical concepts they have learned in the classroom to control a machine’s torque, speed, and position using a digital controller designed in Matlab Simulink and dSpace real-time interface hardware. Students demonstrate what they have learned from the hands-on experiment by analyzing their observations and writing a professional report in which they are required to communicate technical material effectively.

Centralized grid or distributed energy?

As opposed to a centralized grid, many experts are now calling for distributed energy platforms for a smart grid infrastructure.

In an April 28 report from Microgrid Knowledge, the military’s interest in microgrid technology is well-conceived: With its need for facilities to stay powered all day every day, getting off the grid is critical.

“Microgrids provide the military with energy security and reliability 24-7 and 365 days a year. They need power if the entire world disappears around them,” says John Carroll, business development director for Intelligent Power & Energy Research Corporation (IPERC), a New York-based company that manufactures microgrid controls and is a contractor for installations on four bases.

Beyond learning the science of power engineering, students also learn to work as a team to complete their experiments.  describes how this skill will be vital to those in the smart grid workforce:

“The complexity of the smart grid necessitates the expertise of many people of many different disciplines,” said  Bujanovic. “It is not possible for one person to be an expert in everything. This means that strong teamwork skills are absolutely essential to a successful career working in contemporary power engineering and on the smart grid.”

Photo credit: via Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science

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Written By

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.


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