EPIC Unites Industry and Education for Energy
The Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) at UNC Charlotte was formed in response to the need from industry to supply highly trained engineers qualified to meet the demands of the energy industry – through traditional and continuing education, and provide sustainable support the Carolina energy industry by increasing capacity and support for applied research. EPIC is a highly collaborative industry/education partnership that produces a technical workforce, advancements in technology for the global energy industry while supporting the Carolinas’ multi-state economic and energy security.
The energy industry faces a workforce crisis just as there is a need to build new energy facilities and UNC Charlotte has a history of supplying professional talent to energy and engineering firms. An ample energy supply and well-trained professional workforce are foundations for economic development and the Charlotte Region is an energy expertise hub that can become more vibrant through EPIC.
“EPIC is about regional growth and advancement in the energy industry," said Dr. Steve Patterson, a distinguished professor in the Lee College of Engineering. "Clearly one strength of EPIC is the outstanding energy engineering assets of the region in which we live."
With more than 250 regional energy corporations that include Duke Energy, Siemens, AREVA, Westinghouse, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), The Shaw Group, URS Washington Group, STEAG, and several others, that cooperate with EPIC is leading to the expansion of energy engineering studies in our classrooms. Part of what EPIC is doing is developing and implementing energy concentrations based on industry needs.
Industry involvement with EPIC is led through a board of advisors that oversees the center's strategy and helps build industry relations. A separate implementation team is working with the university to align curriculum to industry needs, assist in student projects and identify research topics. Keyes Niemer, a project manager for the Nuclear Division of The Shaw Group's Power Group, is a member of the implementation team and has been involved with EPIC since its inception three years ago. Shaw Group employs 27,000 people worldwide in energy engineering, procurement and construction work, 1,400 of those in Charlotte.
"What Shaw would like to see is a core curriculum of power engineering within UNC Charlotte's engineering program," Niemer said. "That means more power emphasis in electrical engineering, and also incorporating power-related projects and examples into existing courses across disciplines." Shaw needs graduates with strong project management, scheduling and budgeting skills, Niemer said. They also want students to see that there are good, exciting jobs building and upgrading power plants.
The EPIC implementation team will also be addressing a number of new research and technical issues, Niemer said. These include equipment reliability, power delivery, sub stations, air quality, emissions reductions, non-destructive evaluation, materials and increasing power plant longevity.
Dhiaa Jamil is Duke Energy's group executive and chief nuclear officer, and chairman of the EPIC advisory board. He is also a UNC Charlotte engineering alumnus. "EPIC will play a significant role in providing engineering students with the fundamentals for supporting power production and infrastructure design and maintenance," Jamil said. "EPIC will train students in power production fundamentals, which will reduce the time needed and costs associated with training new employees. These graduates can start work with an understanding of the industry and associated work."
Additionally, EPIC provides Duke Energy with a local partner for research opportunities, Jamil said. "This can include solving technology problems, as well as developing and improving existing technology, like a Smarter Grid. EPIC will also have a key role in expanding emphasis on renewable technology and will serve as a hub for renewables research."
Dayna Herrick, the Workforce Development Manager for Duke Energy's Nuclear Generation Department, is a member of the EPIC implementation team.
"We're trying to get our arms around what the demand for energy-related talent is in the Carolinas," Herrick said. "We then want to determine what input industry can provide to help craft the electives and core courses that will meet those demands."
Nuclear plants rely on many electrical and mechanical engineering elements such as pumps, valves and heat exchangers, which require very stringent maintenance to insure reliability. For this reason EPIC would like to see students learn more about preventive and predictive maintenance, and failure analysis, Herrick said.
"I see EPIC as a place I can turn to when I need a new and creative solution," she noted. "It's an energy think tank. EPIC is where theory meets reality." Jim Little, senior vice president of Nuclear Energy Programs with URS Washington Group, is a member of the EPIC board of advisors. He is with URS's Nuclear Center in Fort Mill, South Carolina, which provides engineering, procurement and construction services for the entire life cycle of nuclear facilities.
"The U.S. will be rebuilding its energy infrastructure in the near future," Little said. "The pipeline of talent for this effort will come from our educational system. EPIC is a great opportunity for strengthening this educational system, and we're very interested in providing our support and guidance to make it successful."
The EPIC board is working with the Lee College of Engineering to create programs that go beyond just technical skills, Little said. "We need to emphasize skills outside of engineering, such as project management, collaborative teamwork, risk analysis and leadership. We want to see a balanced portfolio of skills."
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