The electric grid has transformed significantly over the last decade, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s two-yearly review on the status of the smart grid system nationally, released in May 2022. The growing mix of renewable energy resources, electric vehicles, and interactive buildings in the U.S. is making the grid increasingly complex.
According to the Department of Energy (DOE) report, the evolving electrical grid requires a new operating structure with advanced functional capabilities, the ability to manage variable power output, fluctuating and unpredictable load patterns, and bidirectional power flow. Plus, these requirements are all in addition to the ability to enable novel grid designs. It also requires “effective, time-dependent coordination among all participants (utilities, market operators, and emerging players)” in order to ensure the reliability of operations and functions.
The top seven trends highlighted in the report include:
- The evolution of various distributed energy resources (DERs), which usually are not owned by the utility, shifts the operational model from a control framework to a framework of control and coordination.
- Grid modernization is a necessary aspect of an integrated planning process.
- A “whole-systems approach” to resilience planning is critical for informing investments in smart grid.
- Research and development combined with technology demonstrations focused on system integration are needed to shift from legacy to modern grid infrastructures.
- Managing cyber risks is essential to smart grid implementation.
- Obtaining plug-and-play interoperability will continue to be a long-term challenge.
- The skills of the utility workforce must transform to support modern grid technologies.
Modern Utilities Are Seeking Workers in Seven Key Fields
As the grid modernizes, the demand for utility workers with superior digital skills is rising—though they are not so easy to find. As such, utilities may need to train their current workforce to meet the demands of a transforming electrical grid.
“Developing a pipeline of qualified and diverse employees to support a more complex electric grid will be essential to the electric sector’s technological transition,” the DOE report states— especially given the “large waves of retirements” over the last ten years. “The skills required to plan, build, and operate the future grid effectively are changing rapidly, however, due to smart grid technology deployments and the changing grid resource mix.”
According to the report, the “pervasive application” of digital technology is making the industry more dependent on highly skilled workers specifically in the following fields:
- System architects
- Data scientists (for data management and analytics)
- Modeling and simulation experts
- IT/OT cybersecurity specialists
- Communications engineers
- Digital control engineers
Do you want to pursue a career in smart grid or expand your skills to include smart grid applications? Join the IEEE Academy on Smart Grid.
Grow and Demonstrate Your Knowledge on the Smart Grid
Primarily for engineers and technical professionals who work in industry, this online training includes two learning pathways: distribution automation and microgrids.
Available now on the IEEE Learning Network (ILN), the IEEE Academy on Smart Grid: Distribution Automation covers the fundamentals of the existing power distribution system, power distribution system processes, distribution system automation, distributed energy resource (DERs) integration, and more.
Focusing on microgrids as a critical and enabling link in the transition from bulk power systems to smart distributed grids, IEEE Academy on Smart Grid: Microgrid is coming soon!
2020 Smart Grid System. U.S. Department of Energy.