While two regional system operators reported a shortage of qualified engineers to conduct interconnection studies, pv magazine usa spoke with Kalyan Chilukuri, Vice President of Electric Power Engineers, about industry staffing challenges and measures that could help.
California-based grid operator CAISO said “few experts are available to hire” capable of conducting interconnection studies for large-scale projects, in a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year. .
Network operator MISO also reported to FERC in late 2020 that it had “experienced delays in completing interconnection studies by outside consultants.”
FERC cited both comments in a recent notice of a proposed rulemaking to improve generator interconnection procedures.
With hundreds of gigawatts of utility-scale solar and storage projects awaiting interconnection studies by grid operators and utilities across the country, the availability of experts to conduct these studies is a key issue.
In this interview, Kalyan Chilukuri, Vice President for Energy Resource Integration and Interconnection at Electric Power Engineers, LLC, shares his thoughts on the subject. EPE partners with power and energy customers worldwide to “address complex network engineering and modeling challenges, fill gaps, and design and develop the network of the future.” ,” according to the company’s website.
pv magazine: How far does a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering (EE) with a specialization in power engineering lead you to expertise in conducting interconnection studies?
Mr. Chilukuri: Generally, a master’s degree in electrical engineering with a specialization in electrical systems is required to ensure sufficient fundamental knowledge to enter the field of electrical systems studies. The graduate engineer should have a good understanding of control theory and electrical system analysis methods, as well as a good grounding in electrical systems and the individual components that make up the system.
Interconnection studies is just one area for electrical systems engineers to get into, which means the already small talent pool (power-focused EEs) is shrinking further as there are many unrelated positions interconnect available to electrical systems engineers/graduates.
The challenge is no longer to recruit enough graduates but to train them. While external training programs can fill gaps in knowledge of specific power system tools and/or fundamentals, knowledge of the ISO/RTO system and processes/procedures requires time, experience and close supervision from senior engineering staff. (Editor’s note: ISOs and RTOs are regional network operators.) Attracting and retaining senior engineers ensures that no engineer is overwhelmed with training tasks.
As we have a small group of senior engineers with the required expertise in this area, closer partnerships between consultants and ISO/RTOs may be required to help bridge this training gap.
pv magazine: To what extent does a bachelor’s degree in EE with a specialization in software engineering lead you to expertise in this field?
Mr. Chilukuri: Software engineering expertise is useful for developing automation scripts, but we believe it is more useful for graduates to focus on developing fundamental knowledge of planning and operating software. power systems, and develop Python coding skills through online training.
pv magazine: What professional experience would a person with the relevant training need to develop expertise in conducting interconnection studies?
Mr. Chilukuri: Any job that allows the graduate to learn a mix of power system planning concepts, exposure to conventional planning tools and electromagnetic transient (EMT) analysis tools, knowledge of renewable energies and their control systems, and finally knowledge of the various ISO/RTO Systems, processes and procedures.
pv magazine: Are there enough opportunities for people with the appropriate training to develop additional expertise in this area?
Mr. Chilukuri: We don’t have a graduation school as such. (editor’s note: graduating engineering schools are common in India) develop the required in-depth expertise, other than on-the-job training. As noted earlier, this puts some pressure on senior engineering staff to do their day-to-day work as well as provide training and mentorship.
Regional differences in how systems work as well as different approaches to interconnection studies and methods make it difficult to be an expert in many different areas at once. The expertise acquired is specific and it takes time to develop expertise to cover a larger footprint.
pv magazine: Is there a way to facilitate the analyzes of interconnection studies?
Mr. Chilukuri: Maybe a graduate school (about six months long) might be able to take graduates with master’s degrees and help them develop enough expertise that any necessary on-the-job training involves a nuanced knowledge of the specific system.
pv magazine: Are we training enough electrical engineers specializing in energy engineering?
Mr. Chilukuri: We are not training enough energy-focused EEs to be competitive within our own industry (transmission, distribution, generation, markets, etc.) and to adequately supply interconnection teams. Not everyone wants to specialize in work related to interconnect studies, and traditional employers such as ISO/RTOs, utilities and specialist consultancies are now beginning to compete with large tech companies building teams internal. Compensation differences between traditional employers and these tech companies make it difficult to retain senior talent, adding pressure to an already strained staffing situation.
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