In mid-November I attended PowerGen in New Orleans, LA. It’s an annual trade show that discusses the latest in power generation and energy storage. The technology needed to power our world continues to change and one of the great things about PowerGen is the ability to learn while you network. Monday afternoon, I sat in a class at PowerGen University called “Building the Generation Fleet of the Future”. It was taught by Keith Paul, senior consulting engineer at Mott MacDonald and Matthew DeCourcey, Managing Director at FTI Consulting. They showed trends and forecasts in energy production with the general consensus of coal fading while solar, wind and hydro gain more ground. Paul and DeCourcey also added that the impact of electrification on US load growth is unknown.

Tuesday, the exhibit hall opened, but not before an uplifting keynote address from Archie Manning. He talked about getting back up after taking nasty hits, overcoming adversity, being a great leader on some bad teams and raising his 3 boys. After a round of applause for Archie, the hall doors swung open to reveal over 800 exhibitors. Among the generators, engines, batteries and giveaways, there was ice cream, coffee and beignets. Beyond that, work was being done through handshaking and an exchange of industry knowledge. It seemed as if every booth involved with generation or batteries was talking about storage. As it stands, batteries are only good enough to provide 1-6 hours of backup power. Keith Paul was back at the Mott MacDonald booth that morning, he believes battery technology will advance first in the auto industry before expanding further into utility scale power.

During Monday’s class, DeCourcey and Paul said projects can sometimes be understaffed and can cause a slowdown in productivity. It may seem like an obvious point, but knowing your needs is vital no matter if you’re developing the next generation of battery storage or if you’re putting up a wind farm. After visiting several booths, it became increasingly evident that electrical engineers with the right mix of hard and soft skills are the hardest to find. Engineers need to be able to understand & solve complex problems then relay that information to customers and to the rest of the team. At booth 4720, I found Dr. Sandeep Nimmagadda, the director of GLEAMM. That’s the Global Laboratory for Energy Asset Management and Manufacturing at Texas Tech. He and his team are working to develop the next generation of energy scientists. Students work with industry innovators to test, certify, research and develop new technology for the electrical grid. Among other things, they’re doing real world testing on turbines, pv panels and batteries. The future of the workforce is working with the technology of the future.

We’re looking forward to what comes next and helping build the teams that get us there. The next tradeshow on the list for me is the AHR Expo in Orlando in February. See you there!

– Sean

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