College-Utility Partnerships Becoming a Cottage Industry
Knowledge is perhaps the greatest power for electric utilities.
To that end, many of the nation’s best known electricity providers and service companies are forging partnerships with colleges around the country. Duke Energy, Exelon, Johnson Controls, Eversource Energy and Schneider Electric have connected with various institutions to realize research and training goals.
And that’s just in the recent past. For years, utilities and others in the industry have tapped into the immense pool of intellectual talent available behind the proverbial ivory tower.
“Future sustainability and energy solutions lay at the intersection of science, policy and economics,” Jay Walsh, vice president for research at Northwestern University in Chicago, said in May after that school and Exelon Corp. announced a partnership for clean energy innovation. The Northwestern-Exelon Master Research Agreement will provide for an initial five-year period of research around a robust project portfolio, including grid management and resilience, energy storage and renewable technologies, according to the joint statement.
Last week, Duke Energy announced that, with the $2.4 million in grants awarded this year, its investment in North Carolina community colleges had reached the $30 million mark. The money is spread out among 49 schools to help students with industry-specific training.
Duke created the community college grant program in 2004. It develops training for robotics, welding, mechatronics and other highly skilled sectors.
The Duke-NCCC partnership helps the schools make “a tremendous impact on their ability to respond to talent demands from businesses, both locally and statewide,” said George Fouts, interim president of the NC Community College System, in a statement. “The Duke program has supported equipment and programmatic needs and has resulted in more North Carolinians receiving the high-quality training necessary to successfully enter the workforce.”
Two years ago, Johnson Controls began partnering with Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan to identify validate new energy storage technologies within vehicle systems.
Last year,the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Clemson University announced a pact to share resources in operation and development of testing facilities related to the wind power industry. Both entities had testing sites studying the performance of wind turbine drivetrains and to better integrate them with the electrical grid.
NREL operates 2.5 MW and 5 MW dynamometers and a controllable grid interface-grid simulator looking at how the turbines reacted to grid disturbances. Clemson has a drivetrain testing facility with 7.5 MW and 15 MW dynamometers at its Energy Innovation Center.
Another utility-college partnership focused on factors affecting the grid from the outside is the University of Connecticut’s team effort with not one but two industry players—Eversource Energy and Schneider Electric. The three parties are working together to combine their storm outage prediction technology to create a single, more precise and accurate model, according to the release.
UConn’s analytics model will be integrated into Schneider’s WeatherSentry Online platform. The project will be housed at the Eversource Energy Center on the UConn campus.
“We are very excited about this unique collaboration between the three leading organizations to further enhance this ground-breaking technology,” Jon Reifschneider, Schneider Electric’s vice president of weather, said in a statement. “This project will also allow us to commercialize our comprehensive weather decision-support platform, taking it to new heights…”