UNC Charlotte is getting money from the U.S. Department of Energy to update its engineering program in an effort to help modernize the power grid.
The five-year project is in collaboration with three other universities.
UNC Charlotte engineering professor Badrul Chowdhury says his students need to deal with coming changes in the energy industry like rooftop solar power, fuel-cell based power plants, electric vehicles and energy storage.
"The Department of Energy is concerned that the expertise at the utility level in dealing with all these new technologies might be lacking," Chowdhury says. "So they would like universities to perhaps do the training for either the existing engineers or the new incoming engineers who are going to be well prepared to face the new technology challenges in the next five to ten years."
UNC Charlotte is receiving $760,450 through a Department of Energy grant to update its classes and offer new short courses and graduate certificates for college students, practicing engineers and in some cases high school students.
The Electric Power Research Institute, which includes 225 utility companies as its members that fund industry research, is coordinating the grant. The grant also involves Georgia Tech, Clarkson University, the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and a dozen utility companies, including Duke Energy.
Stephen Coley of the Electric Power Research Institute says the goal is to have a team approach in developing research and teaching methods.
"The number that is thrown around a lot is that 50 percent of the existing electric utility industry workforce is going to be retiring in the next five years and so the need for new power engineers is very critical and the need for them to know this type of new information in regards to distributed generation is also going to be a big requirement in the future," Coley says.
UNC Charlotte hopes to begin offering some new classes in the fall.