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Soaring Electricity Demand and Aging Professionals Create “Perfect Storm”

August 1, 2008 — A “perfect storm” is brewing as the nation’s electricity demand continues to soar at the same time as power industry professionals are aging and retiring in large numbers.

The University of Utah has been working with the state’s electric utilities and other companies and municipalities to address what has become a critical shortage of engineers trained for power systems design and management.  In order to address the need, a consortium has provided nearly $350,000 to the University of Utah College of Engineering for a new program in power engineering. 

U.S. electrical consumption alone is projected to increase by 35 percent by 2025.  The average age of power engineers in electric utilities is approaching retirement.  In addition, the advent of new high-tech power system operations, control centers and communications systems has created a need for engineers who can design, operate and deal with these complex systems.  The U’s program will be developed and taught by faculty members who are at the forefront of technology.

“To succeed in meeting our customer’s demand for energy and expectations regarding reliability we need to attract and retain new engineering talent,” said Richard Walje, President of Rocky Mountain Power.  “By supporting a new power engineering program in the College of Engineering, we have an opportunity to help prepare a new crop of power engineers and stimulate innovative research in our field.  This program will benefit other providers of energy services, as well as energy consumers in mining, oil, gas and other industries.”

Funding has been provided by a broad group of power generators and suppliers that includes Rocky Mountain Power ($50K), Intermountain Power Agency ($250K), the Deseret Power Electric Cooperative ($37.5K), Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems ($3,500), Utah Municipal Power Association ($3,000) and Reliable Controls, Inc. ($3,000).  With these and other funds, the College of Engineering will develop a Power Systems Engineering Program in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.  A search is underway for a faculty expert in power systems engineering who will conduct research and lead development of the new curriculum. 

According to Dean of Engineering Richard B. Brown, “Over the past 25 years, power systems programs have almost disappeared from US universities.  That and other factors have caused a critical workforce shortage.  The US Department of Labor predicts that by 2012, there will be about 10,000 more jobs in power engineering than people available to fill them.”

With support of Utah’s Engineering Initiative, the College of Engineering can address the need to increase graduates in all engineering disciplines.  “Degrees in engineering at the University of Utah have increased more than 65 percent since the start of the initiative. Adding a power systems program to our existing strengths in clean, affordable energy development will help all industries,” said Brown.