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.
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?
I don't know of any such venture, Beth. I was just thinking aloud about what else might be done in this same realm. I'm sure other more creative, technically proficient minds could come up with better ideas and proposals.
How about an adjunct program/investment with the Department of Energy, and the agencies most closely connected to weather forecasting (National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Center for Atmospheric Research), which are already using predictive analytics for long-term forecasting. And what if they did some sort of govt-industry R&D with energy and transport companies? This gets really interesting really quickly.
I signed up with SAS a few weeks ago. I've received a few emails from them and invites to join their online discussions. So, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the idea and just how they'll keep in contact with those who have registered interest.
Beth writes . I would imagine energy sources and energy consumption dovetails well with your interest in transportation! Do let us know if you encounter any good examples of analytics use among utilities!
Yes, Beth is right. Much of the impetus behind my interest in innovative energy development comes from my interest in transportation, especially electric public transportation. And I'm definitely keeping my feelers out for how analytics is involved.
Interesting site, Lyndon. Thanks for sharing. I would imagine energy sources and energy consumption dovetails well with your interest in transportation! Do let us know if you encounter any good examples of analytics use among utilities!
I gotta say, UNC Charlotte's EPIC program and emphasis on improving energy production via analytics is quite encouraging. Energy issues (especially has they relate to future electric power generation) have become a particularly exciting professional interest of mine — I've even started a website, Future Power Now.
Sustainable, safe, environmentally sound energy production has truly become a dominant issue for modern society and its level of civilization and quality of life. I have a very strong hunch that analytics has a powerful role to play in addressing this challenge.
@bulk, I know you're pursuing a PhD, right (I think I saw you mention that on today's message board for our A2 Academy session). Do you have access to the software you'll need in "real-time" in your studies?
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