Here Comes the Smart Grid Work Force, Backed by the DOE

SmartGridWorkforceWe knew the Department of Energy would find some way to tie together the oh-so-buzzy subjects of the smart grid and green jobs in time for GridWeek. During his Monday morning talk DOE Secretary Steven Chu announced that the DOE will allocate $100 million from the stimulus package to train workers to install and work with smart grid technology. These funds are separate from the nearly $4 billion from the stimulus package for investment grants and demonstration projects that utilities have applied for recently.

The $100 million will be used to help develop and kick start training programs to teach workers in the utility and electrical manufacturing industries to manage and create a digital power grid that incorporates a higher percentage of renewable energy. A little less than half ($35 to $40 million) will be used to create a standard curriculum that can train workers — the DOE says utilities, universities, trade schools, and labor organizations can apply for these funds. The rest ($60 to $65 million) will be used to conduct the training programs.

Chu also announced another $44 million from the stimulus package for state public utility commissions — all those overworked and overseers of each state’s power grid. Those funds will be used to hire new workers, which will in turn hopefully speed up the process of approving applications for clean power and energy efficient projects. Some projects, like the massive solar thermal plants under review in California, have been held up in a queue for over a year. Transmission lines have also notoriously taken years to get approval by public utility commissions.

The funding news raises the idea of what exactly would a “smart grid work force” do? Well, the management positions will likely be already working in the utility industry and will be interested in the networks, data communications and meters that utilities already have in place. Management training programs can probably offer information about network standardization efforts, and what software is available and most effective for managing the next-generation power grid from the utility back office.

In terms of construction, and electrical engineering jobs, someone will have to physically install or connect these new networks. Many utilities are interested in building out their own smart grid networks (as opposed to using, say, using a cellular network that’s already available) so in that case utility workers will have to learn how to manage the process of creating the actual network. Utilities will also need to upgrade computing systems to new software, which will require new IT skills.

Image courtesy of NREL.


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