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04/21/2011

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America’s Smart Power Grid: Bringing Power Into the Digital Age

Kavaliro and Smart Grid TechnologyIn a world in which an ever-expanding population is putting a growing demand on our limited natural resources, engineers and scientists are working to implement new sources of power and improved distribution technologies for a cleaner, more efficient planet. The U.S. government is pushing the initiative, having lumped $4.5 billion worth of incentives for smart grid advancement into its 2009 economic stimulus package. Forward thinking utility companies have taken to the movement, collectively committing further billions towards research and implementation of upgraded systems.

We are, in a sense, entering a renaissance era within the power industry, a time in which we are making meaningful strides towards improving an electrical distribution grid that has not seen a truly significant change in distribution methodology since the 1970’s. Thomas Alva Edison would surely be proud to see the impending advancements to the system that he first commercialized over 130 years ago. After all, it was he who once said “I never pick up an item without thinking of how I might improve it.”

What exactly do we mean when we refer to the “smart grid”?

Though the definition might downplay the immense breadth of the topic, the term “smart grid” is essentially a reference to a modernized electricity distribution system that utilizes real time two-way digital communication and sophisticated software to transmit and process massive amounts of data that is in-turn used in improving system efficiency. Ideally, both producers and end users are provided with better information and greater control over when, where, and how power is distributed and consumed.

At the consumer level, the implementation of “smart meters” will instantly deliver usage data back into the grid, offering power producers a much more detailed and timely view of consumption patterns than ever before. They will then be able to more accurately assess grid conditions and monitor power quality, diverting power to where it is needed most and minimizing inherent system losses. For the consumers themselves, smart meters offer an unprecedented look into personal energy consumption, which affords the opportunity for cost savings as a result of changed behavior patterns.

Sustainable power sources will drive further implementation

“The infusion of renewable energy sources like solar and wind into the grid will make smart generation and distribution management essential, “ said George Gramatikas, Strategic Development Officer for Orlando, Florida based Turbine Technology Services Corporation. “We have the technology for that. All we need is the will to drive the right commercial response.”

Indeed, as political pressures to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses build, sustainable energy sources will continue on the path towards becoming a greater priority. Yet those sources do not offer the predictability and on-demand reliability of more conventional fossil fuel based production means. As such, their implementation will require a more advanced grid, one that can immediately sense and process the effects of sporadic unavailability so that alternative power sources can be employed at the lowest possible cost.

What it all means for the economy

Opponents of the smart grid offer the short-sighted argument that its implementation will eliminate jobs at the ground level, as the need for meter readers, repair technicians, and various other supporting roles is reduced. Those more attuned to the economics of the situation, however, understand that the smart grid opens up a wide array of new opportunities for highly skilled workers, such as systems administrators, database architects, software developers, IT project managers, and business analysts, amongst others.

Coupled with this influx of high wage jobs is a growing void between skilled American graduates in the fields of science and mathematics, and a rapidly aging workforce within the power generation industry. Utility companies and affiliated smart grid tech agencies are increasingly having to take their hiring off-shore to fulfill the growing demand for top talent.

Rocky Fullerton, a Kavaliro consultant and veteran of the power generation industry for more than 15 years, offers this valuable advice; “American students should heed the opportunity to test their academic mettle in these challenging disciplines, as the prospect of securing quality employment in smart grid related fields, from engineering to delivery, looks very bright.”

Though economists and smart grid think tanks cannot state with certainty what the economic impact of smart grid implementation will be, one thing rings undeniably true; a great number of top power and technology firms are wagering heavily that the movement will become a major boon to our nation. Firms seem wise to get off of the sidelines and catch the early wave of adoption.

Putting the pieces together: Kavaliro’s role

Kavaliro maintains an operational focus on emerging technologies, including those associated with smart grid implementation and operation. By maintaining valued relationships with utilities companies and engineering affiliates, we keep our finger on the pulse of the marketplace, honing our knowledge of exactly the type of candidate that companies are looking for. Kavaliro takes the guesswork out of the hiring process, pairing talented individuals with challenging, yet fulfilling positions at some of our nation’s most respected power companies. Specialized staff sourcing for today’s specialized employment needs is exactly what we offer. Contact a Kavaliro Employment Specialist today to learn more about how we can help your company grow and succeed.

We want to know your thoughts on this subject. How do you see the smart grid fitting in to the new American economy? What are you doing, both personally and professionally, to prepare for the coming change? Let your voice be heard, and leave us a comment below.

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