Public Release: 

Navy develops power engineering curriculum with universities across US

Office of Naval Research

ARLINGTON, Va. -- An Office of Naval Research (ONR)-supported enterprise is bringing sweeping changes to electric power and energy education at universities throughout the country, establishing first-time programs at some schools and bringing new courses and labs to others.

Joined by industry and government representatives, more than 160 college professors and administrators came to Napa, Calif., Feb. 7-10 for a faculty workshop to discuss progress on shared undergraduate and graduate courses meant to reinvigorate power engineering programs they say have grown stagnant in the digital age.

"The number of power engineers in the United States is dwindling just when the Navy and the country as a whole need them most," said Dr. Peter Cho, a program officer in ONR's Ship Systems and Engineering Research Division who is overseeing the project.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has used a set of aggressive goals to guide the service toward renewable power as well as electric ships and weapons. The new curriculum--which covers everything from power systems and electric drives to wind energy and electric grids--takes into account global trends in sustainability and renewable energy.

"Electricity is a critical element for every ship the Navy is building now," Cho said. "Researchers are working on all-electric ships, hybrid drives and more, yet we are limited in the power engineering area."

Cho is carrying on the tradition of recently retired ONR program officer Terry Ericsen, whose support of University of Minnesota electrical engineering professor Ned Mohan has led to the Consortium of Universities for Sustainable Power and the creation of videos, textbooks, tests, assignments and lab demos that will help bring the nation's electric energy studies in line with current attitudes and practices.

Initial funding from the National Science Foundation allowed Mohan to hold early workshops on revising the curriculum as far back as 1990. ONR provided new funding for the project in 2006, and now more than 100 universities across the country have adopted Mohan's curriculum.

"All of our early efforts would have come to a screeching halt without the vision and support of ONR," Mohan said.

The initiative already has produced benefits for instructors such as Allison Kipple, associate professor of electrical engineering at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where the local power utility was facing a workforce shortage and looked to the university to adopt a program in power engineering. After attending a 2007 curriculum workshop sponsored by ONR, Kipple began teaching her first courses in power systems, power electronics and electric drives.

"Now every time I offer a power engineering course, it has the highest enrollment," Kipple said. "The best part about this effort is that the students are going on to get jobs in this field, often working for local utilities badly in need of knowledgeable employees."

The Department of Energy estimates that nearly 40 percent of all energy consumed in the United States is first converted to electricity, with that figure expected to rise to as much as 70 percent in the future.

Increasing the pipeline of graduates in electric power and energy has implications for both the country's place in the global market and national defense. The more expertise there is at home, the less the United States will have to import talent and energy resources from overseas, Cho said.

"People are realizing that we have to have our own resources here so we can maximize the electric power we have," Cho said.

In addition to funding from ONR and NSF, Mohan has received support from the Electric Power Research Institute.

ONR provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.


By Eric Beidel, Office of Naval Research

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