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CWRU, Siemens partner to create digital energy grid curriculum, lab

October 11, 2018

CWRU, Siemens partner to create digital energy grid curriculum, lab

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Case Western Reserve University and technology company Siemens plan to educate the next generation of electrical engineers in the digital grid of the future.

Siemens has invested $1.2 million to create the Siemens Digital Grid Lab where CWRU undergraduates can learn about the digital grid, a concept that envisions a communications network laid alongside the existing electrical network and able to integrate solar- and wind-generated energy with energy from traditional sources.

The digital grid may be a reality as soon as 2020 or 2025, said Kenneth Loparo, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Case.

“It’s absolutely critical that we begin to educate students on what the challenges will be and equip them with the tools to deal with the new digital frontier,” he said.

Leaders from the university and business gathered Thursday for an unveiling of the new lab, located inside Nord Hall on Case’s campus. Following the ceremony, Case hosted a panel discussion entitled “Toward a 21st Century Power Education: Energy Skill Gap and How We are Filling It.” Panelists from Case, Siemens, FirstEnergy, AEP and the Great Lakes Energy Institute discussed how to train the next wave of energy engineers.

In addition to the lab, Case’s digital grid classes form a new academic track in Energy Systems at the School of Engineering, making the university one of the first in the United States to offer such a curriculum.

About 15 juniors are enrolled this fall.

In the future, sophomores, juniors and seniors will be able to take the digital grid classes, which use hardware and software already used by some of the nation’s largest utility companies. Loparo hopes 30 to 40 new students enroll each year.

Loparo will teach some digital grid courses and help develop a digital grid curriculum, while Siemens executives will be guest lecturers at the engineering school.

“Well-trained, educated workers are still the key to a future power grid,” said Maya Prica, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science who will run the new academic track.

“We have advanced metering, we have advanced devices and a growing Internet of Things, but we lack a sufficient number of workers to manage and operate the future power grid,” Prica said in a written statement.

Siemons’ investment in computers and software for Case’s lab will create a pipeline of young engineers equipped to work with cutting-edge energy systems.

“This will give (graduates) a leg up in the job market,” said Venkataramanan “Ragu” Balakrishnan, dean of engineering at Case Western Reserve University.

“There must be a focus on building training initiatives across stakeholders, which is why we’ve partnered with Case Western Reserve University on this important digital grid program,” Mike Carlson, president of Siemens Digital Grid, North America, said in a prepared statement.

The experiential component of the lab will give students a practical understanding of how the grid works, Carlson said in a later interview. Case was selected from among 15 other universities that Siemens approached because the university embraced experiential learning, he said.

The digital grid concept includes smart meters on houses that send information about power use levels to utility companies, Loparo said. Information on power usage would be available in real time, allowing utility companies to manage electricity flow more efficiently. Data from electrical devices would flow to a central control unit, and commands could be sent to control devices.

Currently, power companies only know about outages when residents left in the dark start calling. Power companies that use a digital grid could pinpoint and fix problems faster, Loparo added.

California, New York and New Jersey are among the states exploring the idea of creating a digital grid, Loparo said. In Ohio, the Public Utilities Commission recently released a report that considered the digital grid a possible strategy for the future of electrical power.

Loparo noted that the world’s electrical infrastructure is one of man’s greatest engineering achievements. “Can we do it more efficiently? Can we do it more robustly? You bet. That’s the whole opportunity of the digital grid,” he said.

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