Nick Broskey likes to call the U.S. power grid "the most complex machine ever made -- but never designed."
The grid encompasses massive legacy infrastructure, owned and operated by a patchwork of power companies. It's subject to extensive levels of regulation, and is expected to be reliable 24 hours a day without a hiccup. And the industry is only going to get more complex, says Broskey, senior business systems analyst for OnDemand Energy Solutions, an energy broker in Moon Township, Pa., as solar and wind seek to join in.
"We have a complex environment," agrees Kenny Coleman, CIO at Southern Company, an Atlanta-based corporation that owns electric utilities in four southern states. "We have legacy infrastructure. We have also invested in nuclear, gasification and coal technologies. And we have a strong commitment to more research and development," which could yield further discoveries -- and further complexities.
In short, these and other executives say, energy is a field that's simultaneously entrenched and undergoing a rapid rate of change, and IT is playing a critical role in almost every aspect of its transformation.
Tech pros are needed for everything from developing roadmaps for plant operations to tracking infrastructure assets; from maintaining the internal corporate network to building out wireless mesh networks spanning the breadth and depth of a mine; and in deploying emerging technologies like mobility, geographical information systems, and mapping and imaging software.