HomeDecentralized EnergyCogeneration CHPTalent search: Enhancing the CHP skills base by nurturing young engineers

Talent search: Enhancing the CHP skills base by nurturing young engineers

The growth of on-site power is likely to cause a CHP skills shortage in the coming years. Yet education and training in CHP have been scarce at the university level. As students head back to campus this autumn, Monique Tsang explains why CHP learning should go back to school now, and how the cogeneration community can take part.

Think back to those times when you stayed up all night studying for your power systems final exam. By a show of hands, how many of you knew what ‘CHP’ was back then? Cogeneration was nearly unheard of at universities some 10 or 20 years ago. Times have changed – but not that much. If we asked the same question to a room full of engineering students today, we certainly wouldn’t be seeing many hands up either.

There is still a lack of CHP awareness and education at universities around the world. Although the public is becoming increasingly concerned about energy efficiency and global warming issues, and many students are being inspired to use their education to do something positive for the environment, much of media coverage and education at schools has featured renewables and energy conservation, while relatively little has been said about the merits of combined heat and power, an essential method of energy-efficient power generation. CHP is little-known at the university level. Simply flip through the range of environmental science textbooks out there and you’d discover that cogeneration usually only receives a brief mention in the ‘energy’ section; stop and quiz a number of mechanical or electrical engineering students on university or college campuses, and chances are that they probably haven’t heard much, if anything at all, about cogeneration.

Universities – an ideal setting for CHP installations – are a perfect place for CHP education (TU Berlin/Elke Weiss)
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CHP is a highly multidisciplinary technology calling for a very specialized skills set. ‘CHP engineers need to understand the balance between electrical and thermal aspects of a given project, and how to optimize the project for on-site requirements,’ says John Jimison, Executive Director of the USCHPA. ‘This requires both electrical and mechanical engineering skills, a full understanding of thermodynamics as well as process requirements, including how prime movers work, heat transfer, and steam or hot air management.’ Most specialists in CHP are electrical or mechanical engineers; but since few of them actually have the full set of skills, most CHP projects are carried out by teams of both electrical and mechanical engineers.

An education and training shortage in CHP is reflected by the availability and extent of CHP coverage at institutions and in the educational methods used, according to results of a pan-European survey: ‘Education and training on CHP’, conducted by CHAPNET, the Thematic Network on Combined Heat and Power. The study gathered information from universities, organizations and companies, and found that cogeneration is seldom offered as an independent course and seldom studied in the context of experimental facilities. Furthermore, most educational materials such as books and reports are written in English instead of in local languages, and therefore may overlook local concerns. The study identified a clear need to increase CHP education for both engineers and technicians. The picture in North America and elsewhere is likely to be similar or even worse, as uptake of cogeneration in those parts of the world (with exception of Japan) has been slower and occurred later than in Europe.

CHP specialists are made up of teams of mechanical and electrical engineers (Northern Power Systems)
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For companies involved in CHP, this current shortage of education and training may not be an immediate problem yet. Most companies provide in-house training for newly employed engineers without CHP experience. Once CHP specialists have made their first step into the field, they can continue to build on their knowledge via seminars held at organizations or individual companies, or enrol in continuing professional development courses dealing with cogeneration. However, the simple fact that new engineers, before embarking on any CHP project, require CHP training clearly signifies the existence of a skills shortage.

The ability to meet the demand for a skilled labour force is essential to sustaining the growth of any sector. A skills shortage in cogeneration may well already be a fact – in many national studies, the need for training and education has often been cited as one of the recommendations for breaking barriers to CHP adoption. Skills shortage will become an imminent problem if CHP and on-site power is to maintain and build on its positive growth as many of us hope.

Renewable history

The renewables sector offers a lesson from recent history. The explosive growth of renewable energy in the past decade has resulted in a tremendous demand for skilled system designers, engineers and building architects, as well as system installers and operators. Recruiters of renewable energy specialists on both sides of the Atlantic are reporting a general difficulty in finding suitably skilled employees, with vacancies sometimes remaining unfilled for months or even a whole year. Can history repeat itself for cogeneration? The answer might well be ‘yes’.

CHP has also been experiencing impressive growth in recent years. According to the most recent WADE survey, the global market share of decentralized energy (in which CHP plays an important role) stood at 10% in 2005, an increase over the 7% of the previous year. The most startling amongst the figures is that DE generated a quarter of the electricity that came out of new power plants last year (see COSPP July-August 2006). CHP manufacturers and service providers have been experiencing business growth. Companies are seeing increasing interest in CHP; many have been winning contracts and are looking forward to have their order books filled. The growth has been particularly impressive for small-scale systems. While the growth of CHP is unlikely to be as dramatic as that of renewables due to its partial dependence on natural gas prices, plenty of signs suggest that CHP has picked up momentum and this momentum is here to stay.

Why skills will be in demand

Energy efficiency legislation, power system realities, and growing public and commercial support will act in favour of DE, which will in turn fuel a demand for skilled workforce.

In the US, rising electricity prices and the need for energy security to combat the threat of blackouts have acted as a wake-up call for consumers, businesses and policymakers to find cheaper, more efficient alternatives, one of which is CHP. Although the CHP market has not been buoyant in recent years due to regulation, electricity rate freezes, interconnection charges and high natural gas prices, it is in a recovery period, according to Jimison of the USCHPA. ‘A shift to high-efficiency distributed generation is inevitable because of the inadequacies of the US central system, and over coming years the institutional roadblocks will gradually have to yield,’ he says. Already, federal and state governments are recognizing the need to find energy-efficient solutions to the threat of blackout, energy security, and the problems with the existing outdated centralized power generation system. And CHP is getting a boost from national initiatives such as the US CHP Challenge and the LEED certification for buildings, as well as individual state and regional efforts to improve energy efficiency.

In Europe, where the CHP market is better established, several recent pieces of EU legislation are encouraging interest in CHP, which will create a demand for skilled CHP workers. The EU Cogeneration Directive, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, and the Directive on Energy End-Use Efficiency and Energy Services are all favourable drivers for energy efficiency. In fact, Europe is already seeing a pronounced shortage in the micro-CHP sub-sector. Micro-CHP has been experiencing remarkable growth during the last year, and along with this a shortage of boiler installers skilled in dealing with micro-CHP units. A skills shortage can be a major obstacle to sustaining the growth of cogeneration. For instance, one micro-CHP manufacturer has been reluctant to sell into a particular part of the UK market, despite customer demand and willingness to pay – the rationale being that if anything goes wrong and no one is there to fix the problem, then the company’s reputation could be damaged. In addition to environmental benefits, the public is slowly realizing the social benefits of CHP, and therefore will become more supportive of its adoption.

A huge new market has opened up with the entrance of new Member States into the EU. Many of these countries in central and eastern Europe have historically used district heating, but a great number of these systems are outdated, inefficient and are in need of renovation. System renovation alone would be one area where a robust CHP skills base is needed and where western neighbours can help with skills export. There is also room for skills export elsewhere in the world. ‘Developing markets are promising because developing countries are looking for more economic ways to electrify their economies. Prospects are particularly bright in the Chinese and Indian economies, as they are the ones that have been seeing the potential of distributed energy and who are growing very rapidly. Companies making the CHP equipment can find potentially large markets there,’ says USCHPA’s John Jimison.

The reasons for investing in a good skills base may all come down to ‘business’. Simply put, it makes business sense to hire the most talented workers and ensure that new and existing employees continue to be well trained. Investing in skills and training can facilitate product development, maintain a company’s competitive edge, and help it break into new market areas. Moreover, with a potentially high demand for skilled labour force, recruitment costs can be high, both in terms of money and time. And this problem can be exacerbated if there is not enough influx of new, skilled employees to replenish the demand – as can potentially be the case for CHP workers.

But where have the engineers gone?

Engineers are important ‘shakers and movers’ of CHP, and today’s engineering students will form the crucial skills supply. But engineering seems to be out of favour with many entering higher education. Belgium has been reporting an increasing shortage of well trained engineers and depressingly low numbers of industrial engineering students; for instance, the number of graduates in electrical and mechanical engineering dropped by a third during 1994-2004. This is one of the reasons why foreign companies are not expanding their research activities into Belgium, according to a study by the Federaal Planbureau. The UK has been seeing both mechanical and electrical engineering students and applicants drop in the past decade and, according to a 2006 report by the Royal Academy of Engineering, less than half of the UK’s engineering graduates actually choose engineering as a career. The US is experiencing a similar problem. Enrolment in electrical engineering, for instance, has been declining – by up to 5% in 2004 compared with the previous year – while more and more skilled engineers are leaving the business, according to the IEEE-USA.

Adding to the problem is an ageing workforce. Across the US economy and including the electric power sector, large groups of professionals from the ‘baby boomer’ generation are reaching retirement age, causing a need to fill the skills gap. A 2006 Eurostat study on an ageing science and engineering (S&E) workforce gives hints of a similar problem in Europe. As of 2004 the overall EU unemployment rate in S&E was 3.5% – which is around the natural rate of unemployment that any healthy economy would experience. Germany, UK and France have over 37% of the EU’s science and engineering specialists, with Germany having the largest share of the three. However, the Germans are also the oldest, with 38.7% of their engineers in the 45-64 age group, while only 22.6% are in the 25-34 group. It is not difficult to imagine the effect that this will have on the German CHP market, a country where CHP is better established than many of its European counterparts. Elsewhere in Europe, it is particularly noteworthy that the most of scientists in Latvia (52%) and Bulgaria (47%) are in the 45-64 age group. Overall in the EU-25, only 7 out of the 25 countries have more S&E workers in the 25-34 age group than in the 45-64 group, with 35.5% of them in the older group and 29.2% in the younger.

A number of companies involved in CHP have in general terms expressed a shortage of young engineers entering the business. A recent survey by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has found that university students and graduates are not being attracted to careers in engineering, one of the reasons being the perceptions of poor career prospects. What can be done to overturn this perception? And what can be done to increase the awareness of CHP amongst students?

CHP goes to school

One way of raising CHP’s profile and nurturing the skills base is by introducing students to CHP and giving them a hands-on experience with it. Academic campuses are one of the ideal settings where CHP can be applied (see COSPP March-April 2006), so it is perfectly fitting that CHP learning should also start at universities and colleges.

Students learn about gas engines in a foundation course at Cogen Vlaanderen. Offered in April and September each year, the course is open to both students and industrial participants
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Cogen Vlaanderen, the organization for Belgium’s Flanders region, has been actively promoting CHP education since its establishment in 2001. ‘Cogeneration is not a well known technology and is seldom taught at traditional engineering schools, even in energy courses,’ says Michel Raskin, founder and director of Cogen Vlaanderen. The organization initiated a structured programme that offers university and college students the opportunity to learn about cogeneration by proposing and helping with student thesis projects in collaboration with universities and companies across the Flanders region.

The organization’s involvement in projects spans from their inception to completion. Each March it proposes about 15 topics to students at Flemish engineering schools. Once signed on to a project, the student would start with one week of summer orientation at the organization, and throughout the following academic year would conduct the project under the organization’s supervision. Upon project completion, the student would write a thesis, produce an article for the organization’s newsletter summarizing the project, and give a talk on the research.

Past theses have covered a wide range of topics including power modulation, alternative fuels for gas engines and turbines, optimization of the CHP cycle, micro-CHP, integrated CHP, and the use of waste gases in an organic Rankine cycle CHP application. In recent years the topics have been extended to CHP economics, enabling even non-engineering students to examine subjects such as project feasibility and optimization. In the past five years, more than 60 theses projects have been carried out.

To extend the education activities to France, a cross-border project named I-dacta was set up in 2004. I-dacta draws on the support of Cogen Vlaanderen as well as Belgium’s Hogeschool West-Vlaanderen and France’s Ecole des Mines de Douai. To improve the start-up of students’ thesis work, Cogen Vlaanderen and I-dacta jointly set up a foundation course in cogeneration that teaches not only theory but also offers practical lab exercises. This course was introduced in the framework of the European Interreg funding programme, an EC scheme encouraging cross-border co-operation between EU countries. The foundation course is attracting interest from other countries, and will be introduced to Sofia, Bulgaria this September.

A tutor demonstrates grid-connected synchronous generation to students at the laboratory part of the course
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The positive results are long term because the projects raise the interest of universities in conducting research on cogeneration. Companies also benefit as they receive the commitment of a young engineer on R&D while they can use the research results for future product development.

In good company

Companies have the opportunity to take on engineering students or recent graduates as trainees to work alongside established engineers. This can either be in the shape of a structured graduate trainee or internship programme, or simply as a method of on-the-job training for current students or newly employed engineers while getting the job done. For instance, in the UK Dalkia has an active recruitment and training scheme that combines work placements on a variety of CHP and energy plants with office-based skills training in order to ensure that the graduates have a wide understanding of the industry and application of CHP, including design, finance, law, environment, and operational and long-term maintenance. Supporting this is the company’s university training and apprenticeship placements. In a scheme like this, a young engineer could be assigned to work with an established engineer who would act as a mentor and provide guidance and inspiration.

Inevitably such training would involve planning, and companies interested may be concerned about the productive time that would be taken away from existing staff and how to maximize the benefits. But guidance is at hand. The IMechE, via the Monitored Professional Development Scheme (MPDS), works closely with companies in obtaining on-the-job professional accreditation for students and graduates. Upon completion of the training satisfactorily, the young engineer would earn accreditation as a Chartered Engineer. The IMechE also operates the Teaching Company Scheme (TCS) that helps companies set up challenging, multi-disciplinary projects that meets the current training requirements. The IEEE and ASME, the respective organizations for electrical and mechanical engineers in the US, as well as the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) based in the UK, also provide guidance on licensure and professional accreditation. Guidelines on mentoring are also available from these organizations.

Into the world

A wider adoption of CHP seems likely, if not inevitable, calling for a more ready supply of CHP-skilled people. The potential for new market penetration, such as in China and India, is especially large, but a large barrier also exists. ‘In the rest of the developing world, there is still the need to communicate the feasibility and benefits of distributed generation and CHP,’ says USCHPA’s Jimison. ‘This can be difficult because the natural tendency in the developing world is to mimic what they saw had occurred in the developed world – large centralized power plants and high-voltage grids.’ This brings to mind the many non-technical skills that a successful engineer would need in today’s increasingly globalized world: commercial sense, economics and markets, communication, languages and cultural awareness. The road to wider CHP adoption will always be fraught with barriers, but the skills barrier can start to be broken now.

Monique Tsang is Production Editor of COSPP.
e-mail: cospp@jxj.com


Many individuals, companies and organizations have provided assistance for this article. In addition to those already quoted in the piece, the author is grateful to Danielle Baetens, Ernst & Young Subsidia; Verhelst Bart, PIH; Jàƒ¶rg Baeten, Cogen Vlaanderen; Christos Frangopoulos, CHAPNET; Jeff Bell, WADE; Thomas Bouquet, Cogen Europe; numerous university professors; and IMechE Library Services.

To comment on this article or to see related features from our archive, go to www.cospp.com

CHP on course

A number of universities worldwide offer education programmes dedicated to CHP or on-site power. This list is by no means exhaustive, and institutions may send in details of their courses if they are not included here, for possible future publication in COSPP.


Austria Vienna Institute of Technology
Belgium Université Catholique de Louvain ࢀ¢ Université de Liàƒ¨ge, LASSC ࢀ¢ Hogeschool West-Vlaanderen – PIH department ࢀ¢ Vlaams Instituut voor Technologisch Onderzoek (Flemish Institute for Technological Research) ࢀ¢ Katholieke Hogeschool Brugge-Oostende (Catholic College of Bruges-Ostend)
Bulgaria Technical University of Sofia
Czech Republic Brno University of Technology ࢀ¢ VSB – Technical University of Ostrava
Denmark Aalborg University ࢀ¢ Technical University of Denmark
France Ecole des Mines de Douai ࢀ¢ Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Ingénieur Electriciens de Grenoble
Germany Rheinisch-Westfàƒ¤lische Technische Hochschule ࢀ¢ Technical University of Berlin
Greece Higher Technical Educational Institute of Athens ࢀ¢ National Technical University of Athens – Dept of Mechanical Engineering & Dept of Naval Architecture and Engineering
Italy Universitàƒ  deli Studi di Napoli Federico II – DETEC ࢀ¢ University of Padova, Dept Of Mechanical Engineering
Poland Cracow University of Technology ࢀ¢ Technical University of Lodz ࢀ¢ Technical University of Silesia ࢀ¢ Technical University of Sczecin
Portugal University of Porto
Romania Technical University of Iassy
Slovenia University of Ljubljana ࢀ¢ University of Maribor
Spain International University Study Center (IUSC), Centro de Estudios Superiores ࢀ¢ Universidad de Zaragoza – CIRCE ࢀ¢ Universitat Rovira I Virgili
Sweden Royal Institute of Technology ࢀ¢ Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Turkey Bilkent University
UK Cranfield University ࢀ¢ Heriott Watt University ࢀ¢ Imperial College – Control and Power Research Group ࢀ¢ London South Bank University – The Centre for Energy Studies ࢀ¢ Loughborough University ࢀ¢ University of Manchester, Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) ࢀ¢ University of Sheffield ࢀ¢ University of Strathclyde ࢀ¢ University of Ulster


Canada University of Toronto – Center for Emerging Energy Technologies
United States Humboldt State University – Schatz Energy Research Center, California ࢀ¢ Oberlin College, Ohio ࢀ¢ Stanford University – Global Climate and Energy Project ࢀ¢ Texas A&M – Energy Science Laboratory ࢀ¢ University of California at Irvine – Advance Power & Energy Program ࢀ¢ University of California at Berkeley – Energy and Resources Group ࢀ¢ University of Delaware – Center for Energy & Environmental Policy ࢀ¢ University of Illinois at Chicago – Energy Resources Center ࢀ¢ University of Maryland – Center for Environmental Energy Engineering ࢀ¢ University of North Dakota – Energy and Environmental Research Center


China Shanghai Jiao Tong University ࢀ¢ Tsinghua University, Beijing
Hong Kong Hong Kong Polytechnic University ࢀ¢ Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Japan University of Tokyo ࢀ¢ Osaka University
Korea Seoul National University ࢀ¢ Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
Taiwan National Taiwan University ࢀ¢ Yuan Ze University

An early starter

‘When I was a student, I was really impressed by what distributed generation could do for the environment, so I was really interested in getting involved,’ says Nicolas Mugniot, who oversees operation of the district heating scheme at the Barkantine estate in east London, UK. Having completed a five-year French electrical engineering degree, Nicolas actually discovered CHP quite late in his academic career. He devoted the last year of his studies specializing in renewables, distributed generation and CHP, and six months of which was spent on an internship at Imperial College, London, where he researched topics such as power system control and system integration. Immediately after graduation, he was taken on by EDF Energy as a technical support engineer for Barkantine.

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‘When I joined, I had a lot of theoretical knowledge, but really that was not enough for the job,’ he says. As an important part of his training, his then-manager acted as his mentor, who for several months taught him aspects of CHP not learnt in the classroom. ‘Having a mentor was really useful. He explained to me everything that was needed for the project. He was really open and helped me a lot. So when he left in January last year, I was equipped with the experience needed to take on his role,’ Nicolas says.

Nicolas enjoys his job because of the diverse range of roles. As Operations Manager, he is responsible for optimizing generation, supervising maintenance of the plant and the district heating network, looking for network extension and new connection. He also needs to maintain a strong relationship with the local borough with whom EDF Energy has a 25-year contract. Other tasks include purchasing gas, selling electricity, reporting, and health and safety.

For a role like his, Nicolas stresses the importance of non-technical skills: communication, knowing how to handle sensitive information, how to work with customers, and project management. Nicolas offers his piece of advice for aspiring engineers: ‘Of course you’d need quite a good technical background. But also you’d need the business skills, an understanding of the economics involved, and the gas and electricity markets.’ For companies interested in expanding the skills base, he recommends mentoring and offering practical training for new engineers.

‘I was lucky to have the great opportunity to be working on CHP early on in my career,’ Nicolas says. For him the future beckons. ‘I’m really interested in technology or plant development. Right now I’m looking after a plant that already exists, but I’d really like to start a project from scratch. We’ll see.’