Summer in the City: Next Generation Power Engineers Revolutionizing the Grid

“The power system is still, for the most part, what it was 100 years ago,” said Dan Carnivale, manager, Power Systems Experience Center at Eaton. “That’s where you come in, creating the new age technology and revolutionizing the power grid.”

For the fourth summer, 35 graduate and undergraduate engineering students from FEEDER’s consortium of 12 universities experienced first-hand how power engineering goes from classroom to real-world. This year’s summer workshop was the largest since the program began in 2014. FEEDER stands for Foundations for Engineering Education for Distributed Energy Resources.

“Continuing this unique tradition, our FEEDER summer program provides unique instructional, laboratory and industrial experiences for our students,” said Dr. Zhihua Qu, University of Central Florida SAIC endowed professor and chair, and FEEDER team lead.

The five-day intensive, hosted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, was a combination of in-situ and hands-on interactions. “Three day-long visits to utility and industry companies like Duquesne Light, Mitsubishi Electric, Eaton Power Systems Experience Center and the university’s Electric Power Technology Lab enabled our students to learn directly from practicing engineers about real-world problems and solutions,” said Qu.

The tours provided students with a unique behind-the-scenes experience, providing the opportunity for interactive learning. “Students were exposed to elements from academic scholarship, academic research and the power industry,” said Dr. Bob Kerestes, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. “I was so impressed with the level of engagement and enthusiasm that I saw from all of the students. I learned so very much from all of them.”

“I was so impressed with the level of engagement and enthusiasm that I saw from all of the students. I learned so very much from all of them,” said Dr. Bob Kerestes.

Rezqa Ghorbani, assistant professor, Mechanical Engineering, University of Hawaii at Manoa, agreed. ” Smooth interaction among students, faculty members and experts was the highlight of this year’s program. It was a true experience of what’s involved in modern power systems.”

The program is organized by FEEDER, one of three regional consortiums in the Distributed Technology Training Consortia (DTTC) of GEARED, the Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment initiative. Twelve universities are in the FEEDER consortium: University of Arkansas, Auburn University, Florida State University, University of Hawaii, University of Kentucky, University of Pittsburgh, San Diego State University, University of California at San Diego, University of South Carolina, University of Texas at Dallas, University of Central Florida, and University of Florida.

GEARED is preparing current and future electric utility sector professionals specifically to work with the power grid of the future, with higher penetrations of solar electricity and other distributed technologies. IREC is GEARED’s national administrator, along with the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.

Each site tour provided unique instructional laboratory and industrial experiences for students and faculty alike. “As a computer science faculty, this visit gave me new insight into novel directions of IoT research,” said Damla Turgut, associate professor, University of Central Florida.

At Duquesne Light Company, the utility that serves Alleghany and Beaver counties, students observed grid protection practices and learned how operators are using distributed energy resources (DER) like solar. According to a systems operator, they see DERs as a key strategy to alleviate stress on systems, making their jobs easier.

According to Michael Rathbun, undergraduate research assistant at the University of Central Florida, president of IEEE PES, students jumped at the opportunity to inquire about ties between research and on-the-ground practices. “The more I see how interesting and complex yet simple the grid is it only deepens my desire to share my experiences with fellow students at UCF and future colleagues.”

Classroom instruction and lab projects enabled students to work in groups and learn from each other. “Networking with people from different universities is an important and valuable collaboration tool,” said Kerestes.

Students echoed his view of the value of networking. “Since we were going to be together for five days, we were encouraged to get to know each other,” said Rathbun. “We were exposed to different student perspectives, learning experiences and backgrounds. And Dr. Kerestes took it to another level by including pictures of structures in the field giving us an almost virtual reality experience. I felt like a true power systems engineer.”

“I think my love for the power industry was amplified today as I was inspired by the depth of knowledge which the presenter possessed,” said another student during the Mitsubishi tour.

The final day, students and faculty toured the University of Pittsburgh’s Energy Innovation Center.

“Building a facility off campus generates opportunities with partnering industries, opportunities that aren’t feasible within the constraints of an urban campus,” said Dr. Gregory Reed, University of Pittsburgh director of Center for Energy and the Grid Institute.

“Not only has this event changed my perspective and affected the course of my life, I’ve seen first-hand that it’s had the same effect on my fellow students,” said Rathbun.

“The blend of theoretically-biased students with power systems hardware and industry speakers elicited a number of ‘aha’ moments,” said Bob Reedy, director, Solar Systems Research at Florida Solar Energy Center, University of Central Florida. “I really think FEEDER is on to something with this summer program.”

Special thanks to Michael Rathbun, undergraduate research assistant, University of Central Florida and president of IEEE PES for contributing to this post