The electric power utility industry is currently facing two major challenges. First, it expects to see half of its engineering and management workforce retire in the next 10 years. Second, the industry is being rocked by a dramatic shift in the technologies and policies that define its business.
The electric power grid that has served the nation for the last century is finally moving to the 21st century with the transformation to smart grids—where megabytes will be used to move megawatts of power. These new technologies for distributed generation, communications and control, facilities automation, renewable energy sources, and operational management are all changing workforce requirements.
To meet these challenges and workforce opportunities, CU-Boulder's Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program has developed a Digital Energy Program that will help to create a new generation of leaders who understand networking, wireless communication, and security in the context of the energy industry. The Digital Energy Program includes the option to complete a four-course certificate in energy communication networks or an in-depth master of science degree.
"The Digital Energy Program gives students the tools to participate in the new energy economy, which combines current and new energy sources with information and communication technologies to make a smart energy grid," says Professor Tim Brown, director of the program. "To make a successful transition, the industry workforce needs new skills in internet protocol networks, wireless communication, and network security—all components of the DEP curriculum."
Adam Cahn will be one of the first students to receive an Energy Communication Networks Certificate from the Digital Energy Program. He came to the program with 20 years of telecom and business experience. "This is an opportunity to make a critical career shift, one that integrates my previous telecommunications degree with a hot new emerging field—smart grids," says Cahn.
David Bacca, who plans to finish his master's with a focus on digital energy by 2013, says, "This degree will finally put me ahead of the curve in the telecommunications industry."
The exciting resurgence in the telecommunications industry also has helped to fuel a new doctoral program. The CU Board of Regents has approved the college's proposal for a PhD program in telecommunications. Beginning this fall, doctoral students will take advanced courses in Internet protocol networking, network security, wireless networks, and smart grids; and research new concepts in telecommunications at the intersection of technology, policy, and business.
New capabilities continue to emerge from the rapid technology developments in data networks, wireless, and optical communications—capabilities that bring new challenges and new business opportunities.
"These challenges and opportunities are not isolated technical, economic, or political concerns," Brown says. "Regulatory policy may be dictated by what technology can be used, and technology must adapt to economic and regulatory challenges to allow a business to succeed."
Whereas many of these issues are only touched upon by existing disciplinary research, the new program will foster academic scholarship that freely crosses the boundaries of engineering, law, and business to increase our understanding and advance the state of the art of telecommunications.