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Smart grid workforce trends

Just as Congressional focus returns to job creation, a KEMA report released recently for the GridWise Alliance argues that smart grid "presents an opportunity for the United States to develop a strong native industry around development, deployment, maintenance and servicing smart grid infrastructure and technology."

But it won't be a slam-dunk, by any means.

The KEMA report "The U.S. Smart Grid Revolution: Smart Grid Workforce Trends 2011" also said that "(p)reparing a new workforce that can make smart grid work well from the moment it is deployed will be the electric industry's central challenge in the next decade."

In short, new technology requires new training and education for both industry newcomers as well as current employees, and this is no small feat.

The urgency that drives the need for new training and education is well documented - the current workforce is aging and retiring:

  • In 2008, approximately 53 percent of the electric industry workforce employed by utilities was at least 45 years old.
  • More recent survey results, KEMA pointed out, "suggest that utilities will need to replace 46 percent of skilled technician positions by 2015 because of retirement or attrition."
  • Approximately 50 percent of the engineering workforce will be eligible for retirement that same year, according to a number of recent studies, including the Center for Energy Workforce Development, IEEE Power and Engineering Society and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many utilities large and small, including the Snohomish County Public Utilities District and Toronto Hydro, are taking action to ensure the new training is available (whether working through educational institutions or in-house apprenticeships) and the transition is as smooth as possible. (See Snohomish County PUD: Distribution Automation is Key and Smart Mandates: Tracking Toronto Hydro's Journey.)

The KEMA report for the GridWise Alliance report suggests, however, that moving forward, "it is unlikely, in the world of smart grid, that utilities will structure new hiring by using legacy position openings as the only guidepost. New positions to deal with the new reality and technological change of smart grid will emerge ... In short, smart grid is likely to change the job mix within a utility, reduce the overall number of utility jobs, change the skill requirements of utility jobs and, at the same time, create significant numbers of jobs in the electric energy industry overall."

Here are some of the other trends and recommendations the report suggests:

  • In the near term, it is likely that smart grid-related skill requirements will manifest as additional responsibilities for existing positions within utilities rather than in new smart grid-specific positions.
  • With the deployment and management of smart grid, utilities will look to outsource functionality previously held in-house, including certain aspects of distribution management, such as sensor design and production, telecommunications infrastructure and applications, and renewable generation management, as well as customer information systems.
  • Technology skills will be in particularly high demand.
  • Engineering and IT-related skills, such as those that relate to a geographic information system, a supervisory control and data acquisition system, distribution engineering and design, conservation, energy efficiency and advanced metering infrastructure, must be integrated as much as possible with non-engineering skills. (The report goes on to say that universities must increase emphasis on cross-disciplinary work, such as requiring engineering students to take business classes.)

The "Workforce of the Future" is one of the topics up for discussion at the upcoming Knowledge 2011 Summit sponsored by Energy Central, to be held on Amelia Island, Florida, from November 7-9.

 

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