Power systems engineering covers the generation, storage, and distribution of electrical power, and it’s come a long way since the invention of the light bulb. The rise of renewable energy means a similar rise in demand for electric power systems that can safely store and efficiently distribute that energy. This is the era of the smart grid—a time where clean energy is front of mind for businesses, politicians, and citizens. There’s never been a better time to become a power systems engineer and the work they do can be truly transformative.
Even though it’s a subdiscipline of electrical engineering, there’s a wide range of applications for power systems engineering. Power systems engineers can develop and test wind turbines, or they can design the layout of entire power plants. They can go into research, academia, or private practice. They can seek to lead publically-funded projects, or they can consult on privately contracted endeavors. Whether they focus on analysis, design, or development, power systems engineers play a critical role in how our world runs and how our future plays out.
Just as there’s more than one way to store and distribute power, there’s more than one way to become a power systems engineer. If you’re ready to explore the paths available, check out our step-by-step guide to becoming a power systems engineer below.
After graduating from high school, aspiring power systems engineers will need to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, ideally from a university accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). These four-year programs provide a solid foundation of understanding in the field and prepare graduates for transitions into the subdiscipline of power systems engineering. Admissions requirements vary from program to program, but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); SAT and/or ACT scores; letters of recommendation; and a personal statement.
Arizona State University, which is ranked second in the nation for online undergraduate degrees, offers a bachelor of science in engineering (BSE) in electrical engineering that can be completed entirely online. Courses cover topics such as calculus for engineers; the fundamentals of electromagnetics; circuits; random signal analysis; electricity and magnetism; and modern differential equations. The program consists of 140 credits, and costs approximately $670 per credit for non-residents.
Colorado Technical University also offers a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at its Colorado Springs campus. The curriculum covers areas such as differential calculus; computer architecture; electromagnetics; signals and systems; and circuit analysis. The program consists of 190 credits and costs $58,102 per year.
Several states require power systems engineers to be licensed in order to practice. Specific requirements for licensure vary from state to state, but further information can be found at the website of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
In order to begin the licensure process, applicants must get certified as an Engineer in Training (EIT) by passing a Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam in their area of study. While there is no FE exam that focuses solely on power systems engineering, there is one for electrical engineering, and many undergraduate programs prepare their students specifically for this exam. The 110-question exam, which is administered by the NCEES, is six hours long and costs $175.
After being certified as an EIT, it’s possible to begin work as an engineer, albeit under the guidance and supervision of a professional engineer (PE). Work experience at this stage is critical for accumulating the credentials necessary to become a PE in the future. Furthermore, it allows young engineers to build a resume and network as they explore multiple areas of the discipline and choose which is right for them. And, finally, it’s even possible that employers will pay for some of a young engineer’s graduate-level education.
While it’s not a requirement, many power systems engineers choose to pursue a master’s degree from an accredited institution. While undergraduate programs focus primarily on the foundations of electrical engineering, a graduate program can dive deeply into the specifics of power systems engineering. Whether one is looking to build their resume, move into research, or advance into leadership and development roles, a master’s degree is often the first step. Admissions requirements vary from school to school, but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); strong GRE scores; work experience; letter(s) of recommendation; and a personal statement.
Northeastern University offers an online master of science (MS) in energy systems that takes a practical and interdisciplinary approach. Designed for those pursuing a career in public planning or industry, it prepares graduates for leadership roles within power systems engineering. Required courses cover the following areas: economic decision-making; the fundamentals of energy system integration; mathematical models for mechanical engineers; and the foundations of accounting and finance.
Students then choose two elective courses from a list of options that includes electrochemical energy storage; power plant design and analysis; smart grid; sustainable energy; and hydropower. The program consists of 32 credits and costs approximately $51,700 per academic year.
Michigan Tech also has an online master of science (MS) in electrical engineering with a focus on power systems. Notably, the Air Force, American Electric Power, and Consumers Energy have all funded this university’s research endeavors. Classes cover topics such as distribution engineering; power system optimization; energy storage systems; and cybersecurity in auto systems. The program consists of 30 credits, of which 21 are dedicated to electric power. Tuition is approximately $1,192 per credit. If pursued on-campus, it’s possible to extend the program and combine the MS degree with a PhD.
While it’s not a requirement in every context, many power systems engineers choose to become licensed as a professional engineer (PE). This enables one to lead publically-funded projects, and it also opens up pathways for advancements and job opportunities—especially on publicly funded projects—that are unavailable to those who lack the PE certification.
Eligibility requirements include four years of practical work experience under the supervision of a PE. Once deemed eligible, applicants need to pass a Principles of Engineering (PE) exam in their area of focus; an exam is available for the subdiscipline of power systems. The 80-question, eight-hour exam is administered by the NCEES, and exam fees vary by state.
Power systems engineering is not only an extremely collaborative discipline, it’s also a dynamic and evolving field. To catch up on where the conversation around power systems engineering is at today, check out some of the resources below.
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