Work Toward Smarter Power Grid With T&D Training

The Federal government is making decisive moves toward clean, sustainable energy and biofuels, but the workforce has yet to catch up.

Last year, President Obama took action to help solve two of America’s most pressing problems: rising unemployment and the energy crisis. The accelerated construction of seven electric transmission lines that began in 2011 is expected to transform the nation’s electric system, give the public more energy choices, and create thousands of jobs.

As Cyprus discovered when one of its power plants caused the power grid to collapse and left the entire island without electricity for hours, a minor glitch at one station can unleash a chain of malfunctions at other power plants. To avoid similar outages and grid failures in the U.S.—like the cascading power failures in 2003—President Obama’s energy transmission initiative will modernize the grid to make it safer and more secure. Mid-March of this year, the president, the Department of Agriculture, and the Energy Department also agreed on significant funding to support research and development of advanced biofuels and other bio-based products. The Federal government is making decisive moves, but the workforce has yet to catch up.

Now that construction of the transmission lines is underway and new jobs are emerging, there aren’t as many skilled laborers to devour the opportunities. Smarter electric grids will help the growth of clean energy industries and biofuels, which will lead to eventual cost-savings for consumers, but a qualified workforce is the first step. Regulating and distributing electrical power via transmission lines is critical to an efficient infrastructure, and some are turning to electrical transmission training to give new hires the skillsets they need.

In fact, according to OSHA, over 3,000 workers successfully completed transmission and distribution training in 2010. Not only does T&D training give workers in need the means to fill available jobs, it helps lower the number of on-the-job accidents and fatalities. Safety procedures are a huge component of electric distribution training, with specific lessons about high-voltage line safety, electrical grounding, and other electric or construction-related hazards.

As finance and energy columnist John Kemp  writes, “the grid is only as strong as its weakest link and its capacity to react to failures once they happen.” If workers don’t have the competency to detect disturbances quickly enough, entire states and regions (or islands) can wake up to no power. New monitoring units have been installed to help identify and isolate problems on individual lines and specific zones, but the data alone will not guarantee a more secure grid. Operations and procedure will have to be improved as well, and given the lack of ready T&D skills, electric transmission training might be the solution.

One thing is for sure—President Obama can’t solve unemployment by creating highly technical jobs without considering if enough of the unemployed have the training, knowledge, or experience to meet the demand.

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