Micatu Incorporated, a leader in cutting-edge optical sensing technology, provided its groundbreaking Gridview optical sensors to Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), allowing faculty and students of the Kate Gleason College of Engineering and the College of Engineering Technology to monitor renewable integration and manage the addition of distributed energy resources (DERs) onto the campus microgrid. The company also announced plans to sponsor the research of two RIT master’s students over a five-year timeframe.
Intending to be carbon neutral by 2030 and fossil-fuel-free by 2045, RIT's increased use of DERs resembles the grid transition taking place across the nation. The university currently generates 10% of its power from onsite renewable resources such as individual wind turbines, solar panels, and geothermal wells. Its microgrid is also affected by 22 EV charging stations, e-bike charging stations, and other DERs. Monitoring the microgrid and analyzing data collected from Micatu's optical sensors will help students innovate new ways of managing bidirectional flow, one of the biggest challenges for the nation's electric grid.
"The utility industry is often considered old and slow to move and therefore not considered innovative for new college engineering grads. As an industry, we are not attracting the talent we need to drive the next generation of grid modernization," said Michael Oshetski, CEO of Micatu and RIT alum. "Micatu is helping the industry bridge the gap to modernization with a revolutionary power quality measurement technology platform that provides unprecedented visibility into what's happening on the electric grid. I hope the use of our optical sensors at this microlevel demonstrates that the industry is open to innovation and that students will get excited about potential opportunities to be part of creating the modern grid."
"Micatu's donation adds tremendous value to the College of Engineering Technology's strength and focus in the area of fiber optics and optoelectronics research and education," said S. Manian Ramkumar, dean of RIT's College of Engineering Technology. "The optical sensors will serve as hardware training tools at the undergraduate and graduate level and will enhance our ability to teach power distribution grids and the effective measurement of power quality on transmission lines. This donation also highlights the power of collaboration between our engineering schools and utilize our individual strengths for the benefit of the donor."
"Michael Oshetski is a perfect example of an RIT alum who is making a difference and improving the world," said Doreen Edwards, dean of RIT's Kate Gleason College of Engineering. "Mike co-founded a company that developed optical sensor technology to improve the electric grid's efficiency and resiliency. Through the company’s gift, we are able to build a real-world lab where our students can learn about the complexities of designing a smart grid that will continue to incorporate more renewable energy sources."
By giving students practical, hands-on experience with the campus microgrid, RIT's outdoor lab encourages students to pursue a career path in the electric industry. Bringing educated, highly skilled young professional into the industry now is critical as utilities struggle with replacing a large number of retiring employees, along with the knowledge and experience they have contributed over several decades. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that 50% of the energy utility workforce is expected to retire by 2028. A 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Energy states that 63% of utilities said job candidates have insufficient qualifications and certifications, while another 47% lack experience, training, or technical skills.
The use of optical sensors in the outdoor lab help prepare students for roles in the utility industry with skills they need now and in the near future. Tomorrow's engineers will not only need to understand the electrical engineering aspects of the grid but will also require a background in the data sciences to collect and analyze a wide range of information that will be critical to managing the grid's changing topography. Additionally, data collected by Micatu Gridview optical sensors will be used by RIT students to better understand artificial intelligence and machine learning to create models that can predict future grid events.
The sensors were installed by O’Connell Electric Company, a diversified full-service electrical contractor providing comprehensive design-build construction, service, maintenance and emergency response services. The Upstate New York-based company was established in 1911.
In addition to providing the optical sensing technology platform, Micatu plans to strengthen its affiliation with RIT by sponsoring the research of two of the university’s master’s students beginning with the 2021 – 2022 academic year. The selected students, who will be selected and announced later this year, will have their research supported with funding by Micatu for five years.