Press Releases

U. of Idaho Opens New POWER Center to Train Future Engineers

May 2009

The University of Idaho’s College of Engineering officially unveiled the centerpiece of its new power research facility in early May that will boost its already strong power engineering program into one of the best in the country. A new Real Time Digital Simulator (RTDS) in the POWER Center for Power Engineering Excellence will help engineering students learn about the electricity grid, giving them a hands-on approach to some of the critical elements of today’s “Smart Grid” technology.

“The RTDS advances the College’s commitment to programs that foster research excellence,” said Don Blackketter, the dean of the College of Engineering. “Through varied programs at all levels, the college is creating a pipeline of engineering and technology experts.”

The RTDS will not only provide students and faculty with better research tools, but it will prepare University of Idaho students for energy jobs of the future. With a national focus on renewable power generation and delivery and a push to develop a smarter, more efficient power grid, the next generation of power engineers will need to understand increasingly complex power systems that meet stringent safety and reliability requirements.

The College of Engineering’s RTDS is only one of several at universities in the U.S. and the only one of its kind in the Northwest. With an RTDS, a power system model, such as a municipality’s electrical system, can be simulated and can then be tested in real time with complex protection and control hardware. With the real-time feature, users can see immediately how the control hardware interacts during power system failure scenarios and design the right protection and control hardware scheme for each specific power system. This can then be applied to prevent real-life situations such as lightning strikes, natural disasters or even terrorist attacks from causing costly outages.

The RTDS was introduced at a ribbon-cutting ceremony during the University of Idaho’s Engineering EXPO 2009, the university’s flagship student engineering exposition. The RTDS was made possible by a gift of $500,000 from engineering consultant POWER Engineers, an Idaho-based company that specializes in engineering services for the energy sector.

“Giving students the best learning tools available is important as the U.S. modernizes its aging power grid,” said POWER Engineers Transmission and Distribution Vice President Bill Eisinger, who was the Honorary Chair at the May 2009 Engineering EXPO. “This donation allows us to continue a strong relationship with the University of Idaho, encourage advancement of future engineers, and provide a laboratory that can only be found at a handful of universities in the U.S.”

Faculty at the College of Engineering hope to use the RTDS to teach advanced protective relaying and transients courses to both undergraduate and graduate students and for long-term student research projects. The RTDS also gives the faculty a powerful recruiting tool to attract top-level engineering talent, specifically those interested in careers in the power industry.

Dr. Brian Johnson, the chair of the university’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, says that the RTDS “builds on the strengths of our department, which for a long time has been in the power engineering area. The students that graduate from here are usually in high demand for jobs, and I think this is going to be able to enhance our ability to recruit students so that we can graduate more students with a power emphasis.”

With an experienced faculty and now with more research tools than any other comparable research institution in the West, the University of Idaho is ready to prepare the power engineers of the future.

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About the University of Idaho

Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit

About POWER Engineers

POWER Engineers is a consulting engineering firm specializing in energy, facilities, communications, and environmental. Founded in 1976, POWER Engineers is an employee-owned company with offices throughout the United States and abroad.