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Fall 2013
Vol. 57, Number 3
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Powering the nation: Smart grid careers

Our nation's energy needs have increased tremendously, especially in the last few decades. But the basic system for transmitting and distributing electricity hasn't changed in more than a century. Modernizing the system through "smart grid" technology not only improves the way we store and get power, it provides jobs for workers who have the right training.

Population growth, an increase in home size and air conditioning, and the proliferation of computers and other electronics are among the factors driving growth in demand for electricity in recent decades. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, since 1982, growth in peak demand for electricity has outpaced growth in power transmission by almost 25 percent each year.

The current power grid—the network for distributing electricity from the power source to consumers—evolved during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The grid was designed to route power to consumers through high-voltage lines from a small number of powerplants located far from population centers. The amount of power generated at any time was based on overall demand and did not account for fluctuations in use. Because of the high cost and risks associated with making large-scale changes, however, little had been done to the existing power grid since it was first created.

Until now. Smart grid technology (the smart grid), in early stages of implementation nationwide, allows utilities and other electricity suppliers to constantly monitor electricity flow and adjust its distribution for maximum efficiency. In addition, the smart grid makes better use of energy generated from alternative sources, such as from solar panels, wind turbines, and other energy-generating systems, through improved storage and transmission.

This article describes career fields related to the smart grid. The first section explains our electricity transmission by the current power grid and how the smart grid improves upon that method. The second section briefly describes some of the key occupations in the smart grid, including those in the computer; engineering; installation, maintenance, and repair; and production occupational groups. The third section summarizes the credentials, such as education, training, and certification or licensure, that you need to work in these occupations. Sources of more information are provided at the end.

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U.S. Department of Labor
Bureau of Labor Statistics

Last Updated: June 25, 2013