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To Train a Smart Grid Workforce, UB and Buffalo State Pool Resources

With federal funding, electrical engineering professors have improved local "green jobs" training, cut costs

Release Date: February 14, 2012

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UB's Safiuddin (left) and Buffalo State's Grinberg, in new lab, are "committed to overcoming ... obstacles to help address the expected nationwide shortage of smart grid practitioners and developers."

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A new joint effort by the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College will improve green jobs training for undergraduate and graduate students at both institutions as part of a federally funded program to transform the electrical grid into a "smart grid."

The courses, which will likely be offered by UB and Buffalo State starting in the fall, will leverage each schools' strengths and expertise, and will be delivered online to students from the other consortium institutions, as well as to industry personnel who register for smart grid retraining.

"The laboratory and faculty resources available at any single institution are relatively small and are not by themselves sufficient to educate a required number of smart grid personnel, but when viewed as a united front, together they provide unparalleled capability and expertise," says Mohammed Safiuddin, PhD, research professor emeritus of electrical engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and UB principal investigator.

By synchronizing the teaching of topics in electrical power systems engineering fields related to the construction of a smart grid, UB and Buffalo State are improving the quality of education, boosting graduates' chances of finding jobs while also lowering the cost of education and training for students.

The partnership between UB and Buffalo State is part of a larger consortium headed by Syracuse University and including the University at Rochester, Clarkson University and Onondaga Community College, part of the Strategic Training and Education in Power Systems (STEPS) program of the U.S. Department of Energy.

In spring 2010, the consortium received a $3 million grant from the DOE to implement the STEPS program, which is designed to quickly train a workforce for smart grid development by reducing redundancy and allowing students to travel between participating campuses for access to the most advanced technologies.

"While this approach is contrary to the traditional model where each institution hoards its own resources, our institutions are committed to overcoming bureaucratic obstacles to help address the expected nationwide shortage of smart grid practitioners and developers," says Safiuddin. His Buffalo State partner is Ilya Grinberg, PhD, professor of technology at Buffalo State and the Buffalo State principal investigator; he is an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at UB.

Students at any of the institutions can, on occasion, visit any of the other consortium institutions to complete coursework or projects at a specific laboratory or smart grid installation.

"UB and Buffalo State decided to pool our respective schools' portions of the funding to build a smart grid laboratory at Buffalo State," says Grinberg. Both UB and Buffalo State students will be able to use the lab, which will help train students to create and maintain a smart grid.

"The lab will be used as a major training and experimental facility not just for students, but also for the power system professionals and local equipment manufacturers," Safiuddin says, noting that Esensors Inc., a UB startup company based in Amherst, is now using the Buffalo State lab for calibration of their newly developed Smart Power Meters.

"We need to address existing skills shortages and the aging workforce in the power industry," Grinberg says. "It is therefore critical that training of the current workforce and the education of a new cadre of power engineering professionals be addressed through a joint effort."

In addition to the technologies traditionally associated with power grid construction, the program also standardizes courses, teaching materials and practices in fields such as advanced measurements and sensing technologies, signal processing and telecommunications, adaptive control, cyber security techniques and energy efficiency, as well as policy and economics.

"This approach optimizes the distributed nature of our faculty resources, with institutions complementing each other rather than duplicating the coursework," says Grinberg. "To the best of my knowledge, this would be the first time that such a strategy will be followed using as many as six academic institutions, with tremendous flexibility and student choices, making the prospect of developing the new generation of smart grid engineers a reality rather than a dream."

Buffalo State, a SUNY liberal arts college located in Buffalo's Elmwood Village, offers degrees in education, art, science and professional studies. Each year, over 12,000 students choose Buffalo State for its broad array of high-quality and distinctive academic programs, diverse and creative environment, hands-on learning opportunities, affordable SUNY tuition and location in the heart of Buffalo's cultural corridor.

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Ellen Goldbaum
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