Electricity distribution hasn’t changed much since 1880 when Thomas Edison patented a system of wires and meters. But the end is approaching thanks to smart grids that rely on information and communications technologies to make electricity more reliable and energy efficient.
Canada is the world’s sixth largest producer of electricity with 160,000 km of wire criss-crossing the country to connect hundreds of power plants with millions of businesses and consumers. Tech smarts will raise the IQ of every item that connects to the grid. From massive generating turbines to environmental control sensors in buildings and smart dishwashers that start up when power demand is at its lowest, the smart grid tunes itself to achieve maximum efficiency. It collects, analyzes and acts on tons of digital data that let it make smart decisions about when and where to deliver power with maximum efficiency.
It’s estimated that Canada must invest more than $10 billion annually over the next 20 years to modernize its electrical generating, transmission and distribution systems and build the smart grid. This means lots of jobs for a new army of engineers and technicians who mash up the physics and math of power management with computing, networking, software engineering, informatics and data analysis. Even IT security is critical to protect the inner workings of the grid from hackers and viruses .
Engineers will also fill new roles as consultants in smart grid energy specialties like smart urban design, industrial greentech and integration of wind and solar energy sources. Making electricity smarter and more environmentally friendly is just beginning and it’s creating careers with staying power.
For people who
- Are creative innovators
- Think logically and outside the box
- Have strong troubleshooting and problem solving skills
- Are detail oriented and follow technical documentation closely
- Work well on multidisciplinary teams
- Continually look for new ways to improve efficiency of smart grids
A great foundation for a smart grid career can start with a degree in computer science, information technology, or electrical, electronic or mechanical engineering. You can also take courses in smart grid topics like informatics, data analysis, network architecture, software programming, advanced sensing or cyber security.
Smart grids are in their early stages. If you want to be at the cutting edge or research their future, pursue a graduate degree. Here are a few university programs:
- Queen’s Centre for Energy and Power Electronics Research (ePOWER)
- Centre for Urban Energy at Ryerson University
- Sustainable Energy Research at the University of Waterloo
- Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy at the University of Calgary
- Dalhousie Research in Energy, Advanced Materials and Sustainability (DREAMS)
Smart grid informatics engineers work for large utilities like Hydro One or the 364 smaller utilities across Canada – 87% of which are in Ontario. Check out the types of jobs listed at career website links for Canadian utilities. Jobs are also found with companies providing smart grid technologies or consulting services such as Cisco, IBM, GE, Honeywell and Siemens.
- Smart Grid Not So Dumb – National Post
- What is the Smart grid? - Scientific American
- Centre for Urban Energy Invests in Student Innovation
- Power Engineering – Centennial College
- Ontario Clean, Affordable, Reliable, Environmentally Responsible, Secure Energy (CARES)
- The Smarter City – IBM
- GE Smart Grid Technology