A group of universities in the US state of New York are collaborating talent and resources with the state's biggest electricity producerto bring the state closer to creating a smarter grid and to create jobs in the smart grid technology sector.
Interview by Katherine Steiner-Dicks
You know it as one of the great natural wonders of the world, but did you know that the power behind Niagara Falls also helps generate some of the least expensive electricity in the world?
According to the New York Power Authority, Niagara is the biggest electricity producer in New York State, generating 2.4 million kilowatts—enough power to light 24 million 100-watt bulbs at once. This low-cost electricity saves the state's residents and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
In 2006, the Power Authority completed a $300m upgrade and modernization at the project’s Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant. All 13 turbines have been replaced and other improvements were made to generating equipment in the power dam, enabling the project to operate at maximum efficiency well into the 21st century. In 2012, the Authority will begin a $460m upgrade to the project's Lewiston Pump-Generating Plant.
It is then no surprise with so much power at its disposal that universities within New York state want to get a jump start within the smart grid sector. A new joint effort by the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College will improve training for undergraduate and graduate students at both institutions as part of a federally funded program to transform the electrical grid through smart grid technology.
The courses, which will likely be offered by UB and Buffalo State starting in the autumn of 2012, will leverage each schools' strengths and expertise, and will be delivered online to students from the other consortium institutions, as well as to industry personnel who register for smart grid retraining.
By synchronizing the teaching of topics in electrical power systems engineering fields related to the construction of a smart grid, UB and Buffalo State said in a statement that they “are improving the quality of education, boosting graduates' chances of finding jobs while also lowering the cost of education and training for students.”
The partnership is part of a larger consortium headed by Syracuse University and including the University at Rochester, Clarkson University and Onondaga Community College, part of the Strategic Training and Education in Power Systems (STEPS) program of the US Department of Energy.
According to Mohammed Safiuddin, PhD, research professor emeritus of electrical engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and UB principal investigator, Western New York, notably the city of Buffalo, was the birth place of electrical power systems of the last century, so taking responsibility for the smart grid initiatives of this century is a natural progression of the region and the talent it has at its disposal.
Q: How did the smart grid program come about--what were some of the drivers behind it? And how was the refreshing open door policy to the program induced over the traditional proprietary budget university approach?
A: It started with DOE initiative under Obama Administration's "Recovery Act - Workforce Training for the Electric Power Sector". It encouraged multi-institutional applications for two sub-programs. One of them is STEPS [Strategic Training & Education for Power Systems]. We formed a six institutions consortium with Syracuse University as the lead and National Grid USA as the industry collaborator, and won the grant.
Q: The smart grid lab concept sounds very exciting, but which technology areas are likely to be investigated and why?
A: All technologies related to Smart Grid implementation are being considered. It is a multipurpose lab for undergraduate/graduate course work as well as for training/retraining of professionals from the industry and R&D.
Q: Which local utilities have come on board to help test the technology (i.e. smart grid/energy analytic software, smart sensors that can detect hot spots, demand response programs, smart meter software protocols, etc.)?
A: National Grid USA and New York Power Authority. The lab is just a seedling at this point, funded by the public. It needs to be nurtured and nourished by funding support from the industry to grow in to a fruit bearing tree.
Q: Which careers are likely to be derived out of the course?
A: Besides the labs, the project comprises development of curricula and courses for Associate, BS, MS and Ph.D. degrees to develop skilled work force at all levels for Smart Grid implementation.
Q: Buffalo has historically had a stagnant local economy (hindered by things such as trade unions, high state and local taxes, etc.)--while this is jumping the gun a bit given the stage of the programme--what is the programme planning to do commercially to potentially spin-out any technology from UB or Buff State or to create local smart grid companies and subsequent jobs?
A: Buffalo and Western New York is the birth place of electrical power systems of the last century. It is our right to lead the Smart Grid development for this century. Western New York is no longer a heavy industry, blue collar, area. UB is the largest employer now. Collaboration of two SUNY institutions is the new reality of this century. Let's hope, your vision of smart grid companies popping up here is realized.
Q: Smart grid technologies are often connected to the renewable energy and electric vehicle markets--what prospects does the Buffalo area have to test either of these markets?
A: While we are promoting expansion of renewable energy, we are not focusing on PEVs. Unless, like Denmark, we commit to renewable electric power, PEVs will not solve the global warming problems.
Just shifting the emissions from vehicles to coal fired power plants is not an answer.
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