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South Korea and Illinois Join Forces to Advance Smart Grid

Two world leaders in science and technology are joining forces to help the vision of a smart grid reach its fullest potential. Their program will draw sustenance from Korea's ambitious national goals for greenhouse gas emissions, green energy, and electric cars, and from pioneering efforts by Illinois in vehicular electrification and smart grid education.

The smart grid, a ubiquitous and globally used term, appears to be at the forefront of thoughts for the future. In the United States, the restructuring of electrical grids to produce a system that offers efficiency, sustainability, and reduced greenhouse-gas emissions represents a great challenge as well as an opportunity for innovation, job creation, and economic productivity growth in coming decades.

Soon after its creation in March 2009, the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) invited the Republic of Korea and Italy to lead an international effort related to advancing smart grid technology. As its website explains, the 17-country forum was founded "to facilitate a candid dialogue among major developed and developing economies and help generate the political leadership necessary to achieve a successful outcome at the December UN climate change conference in Copenhagen." The Korea-Italy partnership is one of 10 designated MEF activities in which a single country or groups of countries were asked to take the lead.

In 2010, a second partnership was formed, involving Korea—a leader in smart grid innovation and in technology, generally—and this time, perhaps more improbably, with the U.S. State of Illinois, itself a leader in science and technology. Its purpose is to spearhead collaborative efforts on aspects of smart grid technology such as demand response, electric vehicles, load control and the integration of distributed generations and renewables.

The Korea-Illinois initiative is described in detail in the January/February 2011 issue of Power & Energy Magazine, which is available to PES members. Seven articles by participating experts describe aspects of the joint program, while a guest editorial by Bruce Hamilton and Mohammad Shahidehpour lays out the big picture.

As they explain, to help achieve its national goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2020, Korea intends to build a smart grid infrastructure to enable wider use of renewable energy and electric vehicles. The country aims to see the equivalent of US$25 billion invested in the smart grid by 2030, with 90 percent invested by the private sector and 10 percent by the government.

Relevant activities in Illinois include work by Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory to encourage the development of an electric vehicle market. Promising local conditions include the large concentrated population in Chicago, the city’s carbon reduction goals, the availability of relatively inexpensive nuclear electricity and support from local utilities as well the municipal, state and Federal governments. Argonne, just outside Chicago, is the designated lead national laboratory for simulation, validation and laboratory evaluation of hybrid-electric vehicles.

A particularly unusual Illinois smart grid initiative has been undertaken in the area of education and recruitment by the Illinois Institute of Technology. In an additional article, Melissa Gordon and Mohammad Shahidehpour of the Illinois Institute of Technology review the creation of the IIT Smart Grid Education and Workforce Training Center and the scope of its curriculum.

The center is being set up with an initial grant of US$5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. The aim is to mobilize energy companies, labor unions, precollege educators, community colleges and universities to arouse interest among young people in the smart grid and recruit some of them for advanced training.

The categories of education and training programs to be offered at the center will include the following:

  • Preparing IT and telecom professionals to work in the smart grid field
  • Communicating the business case for smart grid solutions to finance executives and senior management of utilities
  • Preparing linemen and utility operations supervisors to work with smart grid distribution and substation solutions
  • Demonstrating how distributed generation, renewable generation and energy storage allow for demand-response reliability and cost savings
  • Integrating energy management systems for industrial and commercial properties into the smart grid
  • Preparing the utility call center to become a customer contact center that can leverage the information from the smart grid to support the end customer
  • Creating a utility program management office to manage a smart grid deployment
  • Creating a utility change management process to manage the change and transformation that will occur with the customers and utility when a smart grid is deployed
  • Funding and supplementing training programs for existing utility workers
  • Providing counseling, training, job placement and retention of employment services to returning and recently discharged veterans
  • Working in close collaboration with labor union leadership to identify gaps in current training programs and to assist with developing training units that can be delivered by union trainers, partially at union training facilities and partially through the IIT Smart Grid Education and Workforce Training Center

As the authors make clear, the need for educational initiatives like those of ITT is urgent. Each year, U.S. colleges graduate about 800 to 1,000 engineering students who have expressed interest in electric power and about 550 graduate students obtain advanced degrees in power engineering. Yet electric utilities are expected to need 7,000 newly minted engineers in the next five years and total industrial and governmental demand could be twice that number.

According to surveys cited in the article, the problem begins in kindergarten. By the time most pupils get to high school, they know little about engineering and are not equipped—mathematically and scientifically—to pursue advanced education in the field.

Summing up, Bruce Hamilton and Matthew Summy write in a commentary to the same issue of the magazine, "The smart grid is a transformative set of technologies and business models. With mutually supportive private and public investment and with governmental policies that accommodate entrepreneurial smart grid innovations, we can grow our economy, create new high-paying jobs, and help protect our environment. The convergence of these diverse benefits represents an unparalleled opportunity for policy makers to advance an agenda based on research and development, on innovation and on economic development. Through continued advancement of the Illinois Smart Grid Regional Innovation Cluster, the state is positioned to be a leader in the development and deployment of smart-grid enabling strategies, services and technologies."


  • Melvin I. OlkenMelvin I. Olken is the editor-in-chief of the IEEE Power& Energy Magazine. Prior to assuming this position, he was the first executive director of the Power & Energy Society (PES). He previously was the manager of electrical generation at American Electric Power Service Corp. He has served as Vice President of Technical Activities of PES and was elected an IEEE Fellow "for contributions to innovative design of reliable generating stations."

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About the Smart Grid Newsletter

A monthly publication, the IEEE Smart Grid Newsletter features practical and timely technical information and forward-looking commentary on smart grid developments and deployments around the world. Designed to foster greater understanding and collaboration between diverse stakeholders, the newsletter brings together experts, thought-leaders, and decision-makers to exchange information and discuss issues affecting the evolution of the smart grid.


Melvin I. OlkenMelvin I. Olken is the editor-in-chief of the IEEE Power& Energy Magazine. Prior to assuming this position, he was the first executive director of the ... Read more


Christos PolyzoisDr. Christos A. Polyzois, former Director of Technology Strategy at Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions, is an independent ... Read more


Ronnie BelmansRonnie Belmans is a full professor at the Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven in Belgium, where he teaches electric power and energy systems. ... Read more


Massoud AminMassoud Amin is director of the Technological Leadership Institute, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and ... Read more