SAN JOSE, Calif. The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a total of nearly $100 million in grants to train an estimated 30,000 workers in smart grid technologies. The awards go out to a diverse group of 54 colleges, universities and companies for programs to train electricians, line workers, technicians, system operators, power systems engineers, cyber security specialists and transmission planners.
The grants will fund training and the development of program materials in a variety of areas. They span topics including existing electric transmission and distribution systems as well as future intelligent grid systems including smart meters, phasor measurement sensors and advanced communication networks.
The utility Florida Power and Light, Pennsylvania State University and Illinois Institute of Technology were among the largest winners with grants of about $5 million each. IIT will create a smart grid training center that could train 49,000 people over three years with local and distance-learning courses.
IIT is already championing a handful of major smart grid projects including the high profile Perfect Power initiative building a so-called microgrid. It is also working on three DoE funded projects on wind energy including and effort to build a 1.5 megawatt win research facility.
General Electric was the only smart-grid systems vendor to win an award. It snagged $649,000 to help fund a $1.2 million smart grid center of excellence where it aims to train 260 engineers and software developers each year.
GE formed a smart grid business unit a year ago to pull together work over the last several years in the field. "We know the smart grid has taken off, and it's not just a U.S. phenomenon," said Luke Clemente, general manager for smart grid at GE who said he sees significant business coming in China, Europe, India and elsewhere.
The DoE posted a full list of the grant winners online.
At least two surveys estimate as many as 47 percent of today's power engineers—about 14,500 people--will be eligible for retirement or leave the industry in the next five years.
"We're not cranking out enough grads to fill the pipeline," said Wanda Reder, president of the IEEE Power and Energy Society. "We assumed we would need double that many people to handle new technologies coming on line in smart grids and renewable energy sources," she said.
"This is a great opportunity for workers to upgrade their skills and earn more, or for laid off workers from other industries to start fresh in a new and growing field," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in a prepared statement.