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How important are power engineering classes?

  1. Feb 18, 2013 #1


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    I'm trying to decide between 2 courses, Electrical and Electronic Engineering or Software and Electronic Engineering.

    I haven't got the complete class lists for both to compare but going by the bits I've got and the descriptions, the software and electronics course is basically the same as the EE course except it hasn't got the power engineering classes but offers classes such as digital security and different embedded systems classes instead.

    I'm not sure whether I'd want to work in power as I don't think its the type of environment I'd want to work in since theres not much innovation and new design work going on (you can't exactly change the national grid overnight), but would power engineering classes be important to provide a good rounded background of knowledge for an Electrical/Electronic engineer even if they don't work in the field?

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 18, 2013 #2

    jim hardy

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    That's a two edged sword.
    Wait'll they get going on "Smart Grid".

    The grid is quite a dynamic thing even though you don't see it move. All that rotating equipment is tied together and acts in accordance with Newton's laws of motion. Far too few computer types understand that. Hence my signature.....

    Two other things to consider:
    1. A general education gives you the opportunity to specialize later when you've got exposed to whatever industry you chose to join. A computer guy who understands control theory and synchronous machinery would be a rare bird.
    2. Computer field, over my working career, was changing so fast it would be hard to not become obsolete. And everybody goes into it because it looks glamorous. So the competition is severe.

    The fun of computers is making them do something useful. Embedded is where it's at.
  4. Feb 18, 2013 #3
    I agree with what Jim Hardy said, however if you really want electronics and software engineering, I'd say skip the power engineering courses. Here's why. If you're applying for an electronic or software engineering job and your resume or transcript shows power engineering I would question your dedication to electronic or software engineering. If another applicant is more or less equal but has more electronic or software classes, he would get preference.

    On the other hand if you want to do electronics or software PERTAINING to power engineering, then definitely go with the power engineering courses.
  5. Feb 18, 2013 #4


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    How would you define software or electronics pertaining to power? Since pretty much everything electrical is connected to a mains power source?

    I've got a bit of a course list here:

    Software and Electronics:

    Year 1
    Electronic Circuits & Devices
    Computer Architecture
    Circuits & Communication
    Computation Software
    Design Project
    Embedded Systems

    Year 2
    Digital Systems
    Data Structures & Algorithms
    Signals, Systems & Sensors
    Advanced C++
    Design Project
    Embedded Software Systems
    Fields & Waves
    Database Systems
    Software Engineering
    Virtual Reality Systems

    Year 3
    Individual Project
    Professional Studies
    Computer Architecture & Operating Systems
    Digital Systems Design & Signal Processing
    Digital Security
    Communication Systems Engineering
    Database Systems
    Mobile Computing & Wireless Systems
    Agile & Component Based .Net
    Connected Health
    Computer Vision
    Pervasive Systems

    Electrical and Electronic

    Year 1 Modules
    Mathematics 1
    Electrical Engineering 1
    Computing for Engineers 1
    Circuits and Communications 1
    Electronic Circuits & Devices 1
    EEE Design Projects 1

    Year 2 Modules
    Computing 2
    Engineering Design Exercises 2
    Mathematics 2
    Electronic Circuits and Devices 2
    Electric Power Eng 2
    Signals and Communications Systems 2
    Circuits and Control 2
    Embedded Systems 2
    Professional Studies 2

    Year 3 Modules
    Project 3
    Design Projects 3
    Communications System Design 3
    Control Engineering 3
    Digital System Design 3
    Electric Power 3
    Integrated Circuit Engineering 3
    Software Engineering 3
    Computer Architecture and Organization 3
    Computer Communications 3
    Computer Control Systems 3
    Digital Signal Processing 3
    High Frequency Electronics 3
    Power Systems 3
    Power Electronics 3
    Solid State Devices 3
    Industrial Project
    Mobile and Wireless Networks
    Virtual Reality Systems
    Professional Studies 3
    Computer Algebra

    Not sure how many you get to choose each year but its something similar to the other course.
    The power engineering courses are electrical engineering 1, electric power 2/3, power electronics and power systems.

    But is power sector full of red tape? I done work experience in an HVAC engineering company and it was just a case of copying last years work and changing the numbers since the specifications were so tight there was no room to design anything?

    A couple of the employees said it was pretty much the same in the entire section even the design engineers in the companies making transformers and stuff couldn't invent anything it was just a case of making last years stuff more efficient.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2013
  6. Feb 18, 2013 #5

    jim hardy

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    Transformers and generators are pretty much the same as when Tesla was around.

    Boilers have seen increasing perssure and temperatures as the chemists and metallurgists tame water's corrosive effects on the structural materials.

    What is exploding is the field of monitoring and control systems. Computers are finally replacing analog equipment , but that transition had to wait until the computer industry matured, ie quit changing so fast .
    We tend to run equipment for twenty years minimum. Imagine my outrage when we found memory IC's in our fuel handling crane's computer that had internal ten-year batteries sealed inside the plastic DIP package!

    Indeed it's less fast paced than IT and way less glamorous. But, power production can't be sent offshore.
    I will relate that when we were installing the plant computer, a programmer said to me "What a fascinating job you have , surrounded by all this huge machinery that really does something. I really envy you. "
    I had to honestly reply "That's odd - i was just thinking how i envy you , the master of this infinitely complex computer. It's limited only by your imagination."

    Peruse some of these. If they are totally boring, could be power's not for you.



    This is a fictional character, serialized in Power Magazine.


    http://www.isa.org/InTechTemplate.cfm?template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=92305 [Broken]

    good luck !

    old jim
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. Feb 18, 2013 #6
    I think it's pretty much the same everywhere. I used to work for the largest radio communications company in the U.S. and while looking at a schematic I discovered an electrolytic capacitor used for RF bypass. It doesn't hurt anything it just doesn't do anything. Curious I went back to the previous generation and the generation before that and it was there in both versions. Obviously the circuit had been copied from one generation to the next without even trying to understand it.

    At our annual reviews we were graded on "On time and below budget" because the managers had been away from design for so many years they were incapable from judging a good design from a bad one. With a new design, how do you guarantee you won't run into unforeseen problems that will jeopardize your raise? How do you judge whether a design is good or not anyway. With time and budget it's much more tangible. Ultimately this is a manager problem and when managers aren't willing to take any risks, the design stagnates.
  8. Feb 18, 2013 #7


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    Thanks for the links (I'll read through them in more detail later), I found the bits of them I read interesting. My dad gets some EE magazines and stuff through his work and I normally skim through them before they go to the bin (They're on a variety of stuff from HVAC to Lighting Design) now I find most of them interesting, however I'm not so much interested in how an engineer puts together discrete parts (ie. like the light fitting and switches in a house) to form a complete solution (ie. so the light comes on when you hit the switch) but more in how the discrete component itself is made and design, like there was bit in one last month about inteligent lighting controls for office blocks that were supposedly more efficient due to the new controllers. I found that interesting not because of what it done but more because I wanted to know how it did it.
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  9. Feb 18, 2013 #8


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    It depends on your job and your employer. If you work for a power equipment supplier like GE, ABB, or Siemens, invention and innovation are just as essential as in any other field.

    But even those who work for utilities still have plenty of need for ingenuity. Even if you don't invent something, you could still do a clever design of a substation or a transmission line that saves much more energy in its lifetime than a whole herd of solar/wind/conservation engineers might accomplish in their careers.

    There are also fields in their infancy. The intersection of engineering/economics/law in energy market operations is a fascinating and challenging field still immature. There is plenty of reward there for good thinkers and hard workers. There is also enormous public benefit when it is done right or enormous public harm when it is done wrong (e.g. California in the year 2000)

    As a matter of fact, I can't think of a single science or engineering field which is unable to deliver challenging, and rewarding opportunities.

    I don't mean to insult, but your question reflects immaturity. But I do sympathize. I was where you are once. I didn't have any substantial reason to choose one direction or another in my studies. I didn't have any idea what real life engineers actually did all day. I was pushed in one direction by a paternalistic professor. The result was a long and very satisfying career. Think Zen.
  10. Feb 19, 2013 #9

    jim hardy

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    Most people have no idea what's behind their wall outlets.

    I worked in power plant maintenance, which sounds dull..
    A steamship might be more fun for it goes someplace.

    But there's plenty of electronic work in a plant.
    And thousands of interesting gizmos to figure out.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/image/iVW6ynEoY5ks.jpg [Broken]
    "So many toys, so little time"
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  11. Feb 19, 2013 #10
    This looks like one of those workplaces where bringing your pet monkey to work is frowned upon. Is that you in the picture, Jim?
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  12. Feb 19, 2013 #11


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    You see that looks interesting to me, also the articles you linked above were good as well, maybe my work experience place wasn't exactly representative on the power sector in general?

    I'd agree with the immaturity bit, I've no experience of EE at university so I'm trying to make a blind guess as to whether I want to do power engineering or not since its the main difference between the 2 courses.

    My dad reckons that not doing power engineering, even if it was only a first year / second requisite class, wouldn't be good for an EE as he likened it to a physics graduate not knowing Newtonian Mechanics, not probably needed for their job but it is quite a big gap of knowledge for a large part of the Electrical and Electronic field in general.
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  13. Feb 19, 2013 #12

    jim hardy

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    Indeed, those liittle switchgear handles that protrude are right at the level to interest children.
    First thing you do with visitors is caution them to not touch and not let a shirtsleeve grab one...
    Nowadays visitors usually just see the simulator.
    But one needs to feel the turbine rumble and feel the heat and noise to appreciate the power. It's a million hp steam engine - and that really appeals to the inner child....

    I recommend you ask your electric company for a plant visit. Tell their personnel office you're a soon-to-graduate EE and they'll probably be happy to arrange one.
    I gave my neighbor, a 737 airline captain, a tour. He loved it, marveled at the size of the "cockpit".

    No,,, and it's a different plant. That's Crystal River, our neighbor utility, just a 'net photo i shoulda credited Bloomberg.com for it.
    I'll find one of my control room and post it if you're interested... probably be tonite before i can find it . I retired in '02... but it's on this drive someplace.
  14. Feb 20, 2013 #13
    I recommend at least 1 course in power for all EE students, even those who intend to specialize in software. You learn things in power class you would not otherwise learn. Power is great.

  15. Feb 20, 2013 #14

    jim hardy

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    I promised a photo of my control room.
    Well, the joke's on me.
    Everything older than 2006 has disappeared from my hard drive, 'Gone with the E-Wind" as it were. Surely the bits are still there, just the indexing got trashed during a windows installation or something.

    Here's one i found for sale on Ebay, two of my old friends at the control board.
    Picture Credit to ebay seller vintagephotos-2012.


    Note the meters - they're old fashioned D'Arsonval . Simple, reliable and extremely long lived. I remember the day in 1971 when those boards arrived onsite .

    Back to subject-

    One can spend a career doing just electronic work in a power plant.
    But it's a lot more fun if you appreciate the whole process, from the neutrons to the megawatts.

    In a power plant you do alot more maintenance than design. Maintenance work gives you insight into design though, as you see firsthand how a design holds up in the real world.

    After retirement I had the good fortune of an opportunity to design a replacement for those little rectangular boxes with pushbuttons in the lower foreground of that photo. They control feedwater to the boilers and were obsolete. In my design i fixed every thing that had made them difficult to maintain.

    Maintenance is humble work. If you aspire to become a captain of industry, go into operating side of industry instead.

    I've posted this before, but it seems appropos again here:

    There is dignity in being a good worker bee. Ever read "Trustee from the Toolroom" ?

    old jim
  16. Feb 20, 2013 #15


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  17. Feb 20, 2013 #16


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    I'm going to contact the university to try and get clarification on the modules list as theres only really a couple of classes on the software and electronics course that are much different to the EE course, digital security and fields and waves being the 2 that would interest me, and see if theres a similar class in the EE course or if I could take those classes and claim credit against the EE course with them.

    Thanks again, I'm still not convinced about power tbh, I more see myself drawn towards an R & D type of job rather than maintainance or design using pre-designed parts (If you know what I mean). Its mainly my dad thats put doubt into my head whether I need a power class or two or none at all.
  18. Feb 20, 2013 #17
    Pretty much agree with all said here - the world will continue to become more electrified, but embedded systems will control it all. Think of this a "Digital Power" - but 1 or 2 good classes on 3ph type power systems will help a lot. The thinking behind these systems does not really exist in other EE fields.
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