University of Minnesota faculty are working to give a much-needed update to electric energy education throughout the United States, a crucial step in the process of taking renewable energy from the lab to the people.
Wind and solar energy. Energy storage in the form of batteries. Plug-in hybrid vehicles. SmartGrid. Energy conservation. This is just a sample of renewable energy-related areas that are supported, in the form of research, education and development, by the Electric Energy Systems (EES) field. With nearly 40% of all energy we consume being converted to electricity, EES are crucial to the success of renewable energy technologies and the benefits that come with them, such as national security, healthier ecosystems and better return on investment over time than non-renewable energies.
However, to realize these advantages we need to educate students with a curriculum that is applicable to current technologies and that addresses modern energy challenges, a task that has become extremely urgent in the face of large numbers of EES workers retiring and university programs in the field stagnating if not drying up all together. You see, until the 1950s, power systems and electric machines dominated EES and education about them. This included education about energy: transfer, efficiency and conservation, to name a few. But as radio and computer engineering became more popular and sources of (nonrenewable) energy became easier to obtain, energy-related courses, if not eliminated altogether, were given a backseat to their more modern counterparts.
Well, folks, we've come full-circle: now that we have reaped the bounty of technologies made possible by the post-1950's radio and computer booms, we are faced with an economy, indeed a nation, that relies heavily on nonrenewable energy, a reliance that could be devastating without not only the technology to produce renewable energy but the workforce to enable it.
Enter Dr. Ned Mohan, professor and researcher at the University of Minnesota and author of several widely used EES textbooks. Dr. Mohan, with an IREE investment of $155,000 in addition to external support, has leveraged nearly $4 million from the Department of Energy to undertake the monumental task of re-educating the EES field with up-to-date curricula for today's energy world. The good news: he is not doing it alone. Rather, he has enlisted a consortium of 80 universities nationwide to truly revitalize undergraduate curricula in EES that will produce high-functioning workers and graduate students with the knowledge and technical experience to move renewable energy technologies and energy conservation to their next (and better) iterations.
The even better news: demand for sustainable energy education is on the rise among incoming undergraduates. At the University of Minnesota, where some of Dr. Mohan's curriculum is already being used, enrollment rates in EES courses that emphasize sustainable energy and energy conservation have increased 5-10 fold over previous years, and many schools that have also adopted the courses are enjoying similar success.
Training the future electrical energy leaders of tomorrow today. I'm sure glad someone's on top of it.
Photo: Dr. Ned Mohan