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Smart Grid Course Fact Sheet

 Fact Sheet on 2013 Smart Grid Course.pdf

Course Origins and History

This course was created in 2008 and launched in 2009 at the request of and with critical staff and financial support from Portland General Electric (PGE). A PSU/PGE team led by Jeff Hammarlund, a member of PSU’s Center for Public Service faculty and owner of Northwest Energy and Environmental Strategies, was fascinated by the potential for a rather fuzzy and just emerging set of concepts, technologies, applications, and business models with the potential to transform the nation’s century-old, centralized power grid into a climate, renewable-energy, and consumer friendly “Smart Grid.”  

The team was convinced that the Portland’s and the Northwest’s commitment to innovation and sustainability made it an ideal location to determine if and how the smart grid could encourage and enhance sustainable development and other important objectives. Little did we know that this would be the first college course on this topic in the nation, or that it would soon be heralded by all four governors and many members of Congress from the four Northwest states, the Secretary of Energy, and other energy educators and experts for its path-breaking features. Jeff and his faculty colleagues have now offered three very different versions of this two-term course series, each exploring different aspects of this fascinating topic.

Our Approach

As the faculty team began to plan and develop this course in 2008, we realized that a topic as new, multi-dimensional, and complex as the smart grid would require a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary faculty team that could offer the knowledge, skills and perspectives of several academic disciplines, plus on-the-ground experience, and integrate them into a genuine “cutting-edge” interdisciplinary curriculum. We agreed that to be done right, this course would require several faculty members with knowledge and skills in a variety of academic fields and a willingness to collaborate in a cross-disciplinary context. 

For example, depending on the topics we planned to cover in a particular course term, one person might take the lead on the policy and planning aspects of developing and integrating the smart grid infrastructure with the many other infrastructures it would need to integrate with in ways that would ensure” plug and play” interoperability (the electric transmission grid, the transportation system, the building and land use design and planning system, etc.)  Another might take the lead on the power engineering aspects of the smart grid (integrating the smart grid with the existing power grid).  Another might take the lead on the IT communications and controls aspects of the smart grid.  This is essential because he smart grid involves a “shot-gun marriage” of the utility industry and the IT industry, two industries that have very different institutional cultures. 

Since PSU can afford to pay just one faculty member, PGE offered to provide significant underwriting support during the course’s first year.  PGE also offered to continue to provide funding support at a lower level in future years so long as:

  • PSU continued to deliver a first-rate course that continued to meet PGE’s long term needs; and 
  • PSU demonstrated a serious effort to secure underwriting support in future years from other businesses or organizations that might want to send some of their “best and brightest” mid-career professionals to this course. In particular, PGE encouraged PSU to attempt to secure underwriting support from Intel and other IT and smart grid companies that might want to encourage some of their future leaders to take this course.

PGE noted that the smart grid’s success will require an unprecedented amount of collaboration among and between companies in very different industries, including the utility industry that has traditionally been conservative and risk-adverse and the IT industry that has traditionally been entrepreneurial and innovative.  It will also require significant collaboration between both of these industries and the public sector, and with planners, design professionals, and others interested in creating vibrant and sustainable and communities.

As promised, PGE continued to provide lower levels of financial support in 2010 and 2011. To our delight, Intel stepped up to fill the funding gap as an additional underwriter. 

Due to other faculty commitments, PSU did not offer this course in 2012. However, we are committed to offering an updated version of this course in 2013 and hope to continue to offer it in alternating years as long as it is popular and useful. We are currently in discussion with PGE and Intel and are optimistic that they will provide continued underwriting support in 2013.  We have also approached two other companies that are important members of Smart Grid Oregon – BPL Global and Veris Industries - about providing some underwriting support. This is particularly important given the additional expenses involved in making this course available to other parties in the Northwest through our Distance Learning Center. Of course, we will request only what we need to ensure that this class is both financially viable and of high quality.

Innovative Features

From the beginning, the class has been quite innovative. For example, our course:

  • Serves two critical audiences: (1) graduate students in engineering, information technology, public administration/policy, urban planning, business, economics, law, and related fields; and (2) mid-career professionals from the utility, information technology, public administration, architecture, urban and transportation planning, business, legal, and related communities who are interested in getting up to speed on the smart grid as a part of their professional development.
  • Is taught by a multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary faculty team that can offer academic knowledge and practical experience in policy and planning, power engineering, information technology, and business. We apply academic theory and research to address real world challenges (‘Making Oregon our Classroom”).
  • Invites additional nationally known experts to offer their perspectives. For example, underwriting support from PGE and Intel in 2011 enabled us to invite some of the nation’s top smart grid experts who are working in regions of the country that are ahead of Oregon on smart grid policy development, at least in some respects. These speakers included the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Administration, the chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and smart grid leaders from California, Illinois, Texas, Ohio, New York and elsewhere. They offer valuable insights and recommendations on what Oregon should and should not include in the state’s Smart Grid Roadmap. One faculty member was later asked to chair Governor Kitzhaber’s Ten-Year Energy Plan Task Force while another was asked to chair the task force working group that addressed the interrelationships between the smart grid, electric vehicles, and the integration of more renewable energy into the electric grid.
  • Offers a cross-disciplinary approach that deepens individual areas of expertise in the context of teamwork. For example, we establish interdisciplinary small group “learning communities” that require communication, learning, and the completion of group assignments across traditional disciplines.  We also create small “affinity groups” that allow students to work on projects from within the perspective of their traditional disciplines. We believe that an ability to communicate across traditional disciplines is critical to the successful development of the Smart Grid. It is also a skill that is highly valued by employers interested in positioning their companies for a successful future.
  • Runs over two consecutive terms, with the second term building on the first. The first term focuses on establishing the smart grid basics and learning how to function in multidisciplinary student teams; the second term adds to the knowledge base but places primary emphasis on applying this knowledge to help support  “real world” projects that identify and test how the smart grid can support sustainable development. Examples of actual projects our multidisciplinary small group learning communities have addressed so far: PGE’s Salem Smart Power Project, Strategies for the Smart Grid to Support Emerging EcoDistricts and District Energy Systems in Portland; Exploring the Connections between Smart Grid and Vehicle-to-Grid: Opportunities and Challenges in Oregon; The Smart Grid’s Role as an Enabler of Renewable Energy Integration in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest; and Strategies to Include Low-Income and Other Vulnerable Consumers as Smart Grid Beneficiaries. We do not require seminar participants to enroll for both terms but we encourage them to do so.
  • Concludes with a conference or public forum at which we present our findings and recommendations to government and business leaders. For example, in 2011, each of the student teams offered a presentation and a briefing book for the members of simulated “Governor’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Oregon’s Smart Grid Policy.”  While the panel had no official standing, it consisted of people who could easily serve on such a panel and was chaired by the governor’s actual senior advisor on jobs and the economy.  Many of these recommendations are being incorporated in the governor’s actual Ten-Year Energy Plan. Faculty member Michael Jung was asked to chair Governor Kitzhaber’s Ten Year Energy Plan Task Force, and Jeff Hammarlund was asked to chair the smart grid workgroup associated with this plan. 

The latest innovative feature involves making this course available in real time to other interested parties in the Northwest region through PSU’s Distance Learning Center.

This will allow interested students enrolled at partner universities and mid-career professionals working at partner electric utilities that are associated with the Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy (PNCECE) to take this course as part of their university curriculum or professional development training.   PSU’s Center for Public Service is happy to work with participating universities and utilities to provide graduate course level credit for students of participating universities (4 credits per quarter) and a certificate of completion for employees of participating utilities.

Three Distance Learning options are available for students and mid-career professionals:

  • Video Conference. Participants may view the class presentations and interact with the faculty and guest speakers in real time at participating receiving Distance Learning Centers. This is the recommended option when possible.
  • Live Stream. Participants may view the class live but will not be able to interact with the faculty and guest speakers in real time.
  • Media Archive. Each class and presentation will be captured and stored for later viewing. A link will be provided for access to the archived media, which should be available the next day.

So far, Idaho State University and its Energy Systems Technology & Education Center have decided to offer this course to university and professional development students through its Distance Learning Center.  Others are exploring this option.

Course Value and Results

By any measure, this course has been a success. The quality and enthusiasm of the graduate and professional development students has been exceptional, the course evaluations have been consistently stellar, and a number of course alumni have received excellent job offers and advancements.  The class has earned the praise of many leaders, including the Secretary of Energy, all four Northwest governors, and both Oregon Senators. 

The course has attracted PSU graduate students from the various engineering programs, business, economics, public policy, urban planning, and more.  Employers funded most of the students who have taken this course through our professional development option.  Companies who have sponsored their employees as students include high tech companies, government agencies, small firms, and non-profits. While taking this class, students have worked for such organizations as the Bonneville Power Administration, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, investor-owned and consumer-owned utilities, the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, several other state agencies, Metro, the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, CH2MHill, consumer and environmental advocacy organizations, Intel, IBM, and several other high tech, IT, and smart grid companies, energy efficiency and renewable resource consulting firms, and more.  So far, at least 14 participants with PhD’s have taken the class.  Several course alumni have started their own consulting companies and are doing quite well.

Course faculty continue to received inquires from potential employers asking for suggestions and recommendations of recent course alumni; we are most often asked to recommend students who are both strong technically and able to thrive in the interdisciplinary teams.

All three of the major national smart grid related on-line and print magazines and newsletters - Smart Grid News, Smart Grid Today, and Intelligent Utility – have run positive articles on this class. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said the course represents the “invention of the wheel” for the kind of introductory interdisciplinary graduate level smart grid and clean energy course he hoped other universities would adopt around the country. The class was also featured and praised in one of the most respected books on this subject, The Advanced Smart Grid: Edge Power Driving Sustainability (Carvallo and Cooper, 2011). Earlier this year, Nancy Sutley, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, met with the course’s lead faculty member to brainstorm on how the White House might encourage other universities to develop similar courses.

Plans for the 2013 Course

The Center for Public Service has recruited another stellar faculty team for winter and spring term 2013 course. They include:

  • Jeff Hammarlund: Adjunct Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow at Portland State University’s College of Urban and Public Affairs and its Center for Public Service; President, Northwest Energy and Environmental Strategies; former advisor to President Obama on the smart grid and clean energy 
  • Michael Jung: Policy Director, Silver Spring Networks, and former Chair of Oregon Governor Kitzhaber's Ten Year Energy Plan Task Force
  • James Mater: Co-founder and General Manager, Smart Grid Business for QualityLogic
  • Mark Osborn: Senior Vice President of Five Stars International, Ltd. and former Smart Grid Manager, Portland General Electric
  • Lawrence Beaty: Executive Director and Chair of the Energy Systems Technology Information Center, Idaho State University

The faculty is in the process of recruiting a stellar group of nationally and locally known guest speakers, assuming we receive the underwriting support we are requesting.  The course will begin on Thursday evening, January 10 and run from 6:30-9:40 pm.  For more information, including the current course plan, previous course syllabi, faculty bios, and registration visit the course website. 

If you have further questions, please contact:

  • Jeff Hammarlund, Lead Faculty and Program Manager: 503-249-0240 or