If you want to be taken seriously, you put your money where your mouth is -- as the old saying goes. For example, if you pledge a commitment to analytics education and talent development, you follow through with an investment in a university program that will do just that.
At least, that's the way SAS (this site's sponsor and longtime benefactor of higher ed) operates.
Two weeks ago, the company boosted its commitment to analytics education with the introduction of SAS Analytics U. As part of this multi-pronged program, it introduced SAS University Edition, free entry-level software for students; extended SAS OnDemand for Academics to more students; and created an online community for students and professors. Today, it showed the power of pairing Analytics U with analytics research, awarding a research and software grant to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Energy Production
& Infrastructure Center (EPIC).
To learn more about EPIC and what this research and software grant means for its work, I spoke with Johan Enslin, who is the center's director. EPIC began about four years ago, he told me, initiated by the utility industry in recognition that collaboration with higher ed was necessary in order to ensure workforce integrity. With smart grid and other sustainability initiatives in play, utilities need engineers who can meet next-generation demands, but they're contending with an aging workforce, he explained. In large part, therefore, EPIC focuses on workforce development, he said.
UNC Charlotte's Energy Production & Infrastructure Center
As EPIC put together a strategic plan for workforce development, economic development, and research, it identified energy analytics and energy markets as essential understandings. "Energy analytics -- big data in power and the energy industry -- is an important part of modernizing the grid," Enslin said.
The utilities must understand, for example, how to manage their sustainable resources and their loads in real-time, with data fed from sensors and smart meters in the distribution network. "What do you make of all this data that comes into play? Do you manage data in a distributed fashion, or centralized?" Enslin suggested as questions in need of exploration.
Having access to energy forecasting tools such as those made available through the SAS grant is critical for enabling EPIC to undertake research in this area, Enslin said. The grant, which he called "substantial," will be used for the Energy Analytics Research Laboratory run by Tao Hong, an EPIC assistant professor, graduate program director, and one-time SAS employee.
I wasn't able to speak directly with Hong, but in a press statement, he said:
The new SAS grant will offer our students invaluable hands-on experience with the analytics software that hundreds of energy companies use for operations and planning. That experience with SAS Analytics represents a tremendous advantage in the energy job market. They can go to employment interviews and their first days of work with added confidence from that experience with state-of-the-art technology.
They'll also go with the experience of working with actual utility data, Enslin noted. For example, the lab gets real-time data streams from Duke Energy, another EPIC partner. "With renewables on the grid, a lot of the decision making has to be done much faster, and our partners are helping this happen here," Enslin said.
The SAS software will be used in EPIC courses beginning this summer "to introduce descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics and their applications in energy forecasting, demand response analytics, outage management, energy trading, and risk management," the company said.
While UNC Charlotte is busy powering up on energy analytics, let's think about other types of industry-related academic programs with which SAS might partner. Your thoughts, members?
— Beth Schultz, , Editor in Chief, AllAnalytics.com