New institute powers up

New institute powers up McGill University

| Skip to search Skip to navigation Skip to page content

User Tools (skip):

Sign in | Friday, July 20, 2018
Sister Sites: McGill website | myMcGill

McGill Reporter
November 8, 2001 - Volume 34 Number 05
| Help
Page Options (skip): Larger
Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 34: 2001-2002 > November 8, 2001 > New institute powers up

New institute powers up

More engineers will be bringing power to the people, thanks to a new joint initiative between Hydro-Québec, McGill and other universities.

The Institute for Electrical Power Engineering offers a unique final year of study for electrical engineering undergraduates. The institute's goal is to turn out the kind of well-trained engineers that are desperately needed right now by the power industry.

A recent Hydro-Québec study revealed that over 500 of its engineers will retire between now and 2014. Hydro-Québec estimates it will therefore need to attract 25 new power engineering hires each year, starting immediately.

This demand exceeds the number of graduates currently being turned out by universities.

"We've had a lot of problems finding students in this discipline," says Jean Laperrière, a recruitment and evaluation adviser for Hydro-Québec.

"We learned that 66 students finished power engineering programs in 1999, 40 in 2000, 33 in 2001, and an estimated 18 in 2002.

"We could see that a serious problem was developing, and needed to do something about it."

That something is the Institute for Electrical Power Engineering, which Hydro-Québec is helping to fund via a $3.88 million contribution over the next seven years.

As an incentive for students to consider this oft-overlooked field, Hydro-Québec is also awarding 15 annual $5,000 bursaries, and has committed to hiring 25 graduates each year.

Although it officially begins in the fall of 2002, the program is currently in what electrical and computer engineering professor Geza Joos, the director general of the institute, calls "a bridge program" stage, due to Hydro-Québec's immediate need for skilled engineers. This bridge program consists of a core of existing courses at the participating universities. In addition to McGill and École polytechnique de Montréal, which are working in close collaboration to set up the institute, the program also involves Sherbrooke, Concordia, and École de technologie supérieure. This year's students will graduate under the institute's banner and are eligible for the bursaries.

When the official program is launched next fall, however, it will boast a shared series of electives (focusing on topics such as stability, short-circuits, power flow, and insulation coordination) and a lab component, all of which will be even more specifically geared toward industry interests.

Hydro-Québec is hoping that pooled academic resources, as well as its own sizable cash injection, will help turn out more -- and more valuable -- graduates than would be possible through any single school's self-contained program.

"Because we have industry support and funding," says Joos, "we can offer more courses in power engineering and set up better facilities. The program is unique in that it's updated to reflect the latest trends in electrical power engineering, and there are practical components, such as labs and projects, that are geared toward industry interests."

Joos is nevertheless aware of the current climate of heightened concern regarding undue corporate influence on campuses.

"I want to stress that it's not a program that's being dictated by industry," he says. "Yes, we are catering to industry needs, but it remains a university degree."

These industry needs go beyond those of merely Hydro-Québec or the province. Hydro-Québec estimates that, in addition to its own requirements, Quebec industries will need to hire 15 new power engineers per year, and North America at large is on the cusp of a power engineer crisis.

The shortage is largely due to a vicious cycle of shrinking enrolment (due to few job openings in the past, and lower starting salaries than in fields like communications engineering) and course cutbacks (McGill has always maintained a commitment to power engineering core courses, but many schools have eliminated their curricula altogether). This is further exacerbated by another factor: power engineering has an image problem.

"It has not been seen as the sexiest area around," explains David Lowther, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "You may have noticed that you don't see big newspaper headlines saying, 'Massive Growth in the Power Industry!'

"For the last 15 or 20 years, all the students have been sucked into the electronics/computer/telecommunications area. Power engineering [was] looking like something invented in the 19th century and not very relevant to 21st century life.

"But it's an extremely relevant and critical job," he adds, underlining the importance of the institute's program. "I think what the ice storm [in 1998] demonstrated is how reliant society is on a stable and reliable power source.

"Even if it doesn't have the sex appeal of other areas, without power engineering, nothing works."

view sidebar content | back to top of page