Steve Shelby

Managing Director for the
Purdue Smart Grid Initiative

When it comes to connecting members of the electricity industry with Purdue's cutting-edge academics, Steve Shelby is really charged up.

Shelby is managing director for the Purdue Smart Grid Initiative, which uses a $9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to train students for 21st-century, energy-related jobs. In addition to liaising with industry members to promote and develop the Purdue Smart Grid Initiative, Shelby is working with universities in the United Kingdom to develop strategic partnerships to provide Purdue students with global project team experience.

Steve Shelby

What is the Purdue Smart Grid Initiative?

The Purdue Smart Grid Initiative is funded through a federal grant that Purdue received jointly with Ivy Tech Community College in 2010. It focuses on workforce development in the electric energy sector. Through the initiative, Purdue has developed 10 courses that students studying in the power engineering technology and related fields can take as part of their majors.

The courses focus on topics such as power grid management, electric network security, electric vehicle technology, energy storage technology and the integration of alternate energy sources into the power grid. Right now, the courses are electives, but we hope to create a "smart grid technology" certificate program by January.

In addition to acting as a translator between the academic side of this initiative and members of the industry, my job involves managing the federal grant's budget, overseeing contract personnel, coming up with course assessments and other administrative duties.

How do you act as a translator between Purdue's academics and the electric industry?

I develop and maintain close contacts with industry companies — especially ones located in Indiana. For example, we've secured $1.75 million in gifts from companies to help train students at Purdue through this initiative.

The relationships we develop also help our students get jobs. Companies such as Tesla Motors and Caterpillar Inc., which are very much on the cutting edge of developing electric engines, hire our graduates because they know we specially train them for that kind of work.

From our perspective, it's great to train students and other professionals in smart grid technology, but if the companies who need these professionals don't know what our alumni can offer, it's a wasted effort. That's where I come in.

What other ways have you helped promote the Purdue Smart Grid Initiative?

We've developed partnerships with several U.K. universities. Essentially, our students would be able to take their courses through distance learning and vice versa. By spring 2014, we'd like to offer this global option to our students, because we think it will make them instantly more valuable as employees. We want to prepare them for success in a global economy.

I also support the development of key smart grid components and projects happening here on campus. For example, we have installed four charging stations for electric vehicles, and I've worked with several industry and academic partners in the state to get additional chargers installed at places such as Indianapolis International Airport. The idea is that we want the technology students are learning here at Purdue to be available to consumers in the wider community.

Why is the Purdue Smart Grid Initiative important?

It's important to invest in smart grid technology because the existing electric grid is failing in several ways. Electricity blackouts and brownouts can be regular occurrences, and it's difficult to incorporate renewable energy sources into the grid. Additionally, utilities often have a difficult time knowing how much electricity to produce because usage is not measured well.

This is why we need a smart grid — it will interconnect electricity distribution with two-way communications to provide energy monitoring and management for electric utilities and consumers. It also will deliver electricity with increased efficiency. The overall goal is to save energy, increase reliability and reduce overall costs. If we can contribute to establishing a smart grid while also training Purdue students for related jobs, then that's a win for everyone — including our students, industry partners and consumers.