Energy Managers Get Trained in Traditional and Innovative Ways

May 6, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

trainingEducation is the key to a better future. That is true in life – and for energy efficiency efforts in facilities.

There is a lot going on that is new for energy managers, from the integration of buildings into the telecommunications network to virtual reality. Education and training initiatives are working to keep pace with the changes — and with the increased public desire for energy efficient behavior.

The desire to meet the energy management needs of millions upon millions of facilities is illustrated by the opening of two facilities during the past few months. Last fall, Tarrant County College opened a $42 million, 87,000-square-foot energy center in Fort Worth, TX. It is a hands-on facility, as Energy Manager Today reported at the time:

The building itself is a teaching and training tool. For instance, peeled back walls expose layers of the infrastructure and a wood-framed house enables students to practice air conditioning system installation. The building also was built with sustainability in mind. For instance, a solar array almost achieves net zero electrical consumption and a wind generating tower planned to start operating next month will power six homes.

Another example is Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire, WI. Its new Energy Education Center, which cost $10 million to create, offers a curriculum focusing on energy generation, distribution and efficient utilization and conservation, the organization said.

Things are going well, according to Adam Wehling, the Associate Dean of Agriculture & Energy at the college.”We have been overwhelmed with the number of visitors interested in touring programs and learning about the new technology here at the Energy Education Center,” Wehling said. “Many of these are interested in the renewable energy we have integrated into our programs which include solar-photovoltaic, solar-thermal, small scale-wind, geothermal and bio-energy.”

In addition to traditional approaches such as those, the amount of new territory for energy managers to cover is leading to innovation. A program funded by the state of Michigan sends retired engineers across the state to perform energy audits for small- and medium-sized companies. While education isn’t a formal part of the program – at least as described in the story this week at Midwest Energy News – it almost certainly is an informal element.

New tools also are emerging. It is likely that virtual reality and augmented reality (VR and AR) will be huge tools for energy managers.

The two are different. Augmented reality, as the name implies, adds salient information or data to what the viewer is seeing through a visor. AR already is a big deal in industry for a couple of reasons. Most obviously, a worker can call up schematics or other salient information when performing a particular task. The extra benefit is that VR  can be coupled with remote connectivity. In this way, an expert half way around the world can see what the worker is seeing and offer instructions. The training implications of such technology are obvious.

They also are obvious in augmented reality’s cousin, virtual reality. As the name also implies, aims to create a completely simulated world. This is great for gamers, of course. It also has significant implications for training. This week, DTE Energy and Vectorform announced a partnership to use virtual reality to, in the words of the DTE’s press release, to “advance high-consequence training.” The product is aimed at field utility’s field technicians, but could easily be customized for energy managers.

The companies will use the HTC Vive platform that is now primarily used for gaming. It offers a 110-degree field of view and 360 degree motion tracking, “real world awareness” that combines real and virtual elements and full-room sensing.

Facility energy management is a precise, complex and vital undertaking, and education is vital. There continue to be new opportunities for energy managers to gain this education. Some of these – such as the inauguration of vocational training centers with include it in their curricula – are familiar. Others — such as the use of exciting technology such as AR and VR to educate and in some cases assist energy managers — are new.

The one certainty is that education will continue to become more sophisticated. “By reducing the amount of energy a home or business utilizes, this will reduce the size and cost of a renewable energy system that needs to be installed and the payback for the system,” Wehling said. “This will only become more important as time progresses since energy historical trend of increasing in cost over time.”

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