Power is one of those sectors which are showing a promise of growth and expansion amidst the economic slowdown clatter. It may even benefit from the current recession. Its steady rise can be attributed to the immediate need for infrastructure.
As corporate majors look to cut costs and increase productivity, the one way they are likely to achieve this is through introduction of a cost-effective power solution. In fact, the Target Mission of India ‘Power for All by 2012’ would mean achieving the target of 1000 kWh (units) of per capita consumption of electricity by this period. Hence, if you wish to make your own contribution to the growth story of emerging India, this is one sector that will provide immense scope and opportunity.
The power story…
Let’s first probe a little deep inside India’s growth story. It is well known that the growth of a country can be sustained only if its infrastructure keeps pace with it. Power is the most prominent vertical amongst the infrastructural sectors. According to a midterm report released by Assocham, it topped the list of the most preferred investment sectors with 18.4 per cent of the total infrastructural investment.
The current economic recession doesn’t seem to have had any significant impact on job opportunities in the power sector. Commenting on an upbeat employment scenario in the power industry, Sunil Bhatnagar, director, Parker Power System, says, “In times of an economic slowdown the government looks to pump in more with respect to public expenditure, thus ensuring continuous job creation. For this reason, the power sector has the greatest element of anti-cyclical behaviour, thereby maintaining a healthy growth rate”.
Bhatnagar also outlines the new recruitment plan for his organisation. The recruitment trends of PSUs also are in accordance with his comment. NTPC itself has recruited about 1225 professionals last year and is planning to hire more than 1000 engineering and management professionals every year over the coming years. Other power companies—private- as well as public-sector—would also have high manpower requirements in the coming years in view of the growth opportunities present.
Large investments from private-sector players like Tata Power, Sterlite Industries, Jindal India Thermal Power and Lanco Group are increasing the chances of new job creation. Moreover, private players in energy management sectors like Conzerv, Enercon and APC are also in hiring mode. Bhatnagar feels that power will be the highest job-generating sector by 2012.
Be a part of the power game
Since the power sector comprises a wide range of firms from fairly large and mature companies to the SMBs, the manpower requirement also varies accordingly. The skill requirements are vast and there is room for professionals in product design and development, project engineering, product management, marketing and sales. Professionals who have a superior understanding of electronics, instrumentation, electrical, mechanical and power engineering are required amongst others.
Most of the companies have ambitious expansion as well as diversification plans. Companies like NTPC have taken a number of steps to emerge as an integrated power company with presence in coal mining, hydel power generation, power trading and power distribution. Accordingly, there are huge job opportunities for new entrants.
While there is still a shortage of quality manpower in the power sector, this seems to be easing out with changing preferences among the fresh engineers from IT to core fields like power and other heavy industries. “We do find that entry-level technical graduates are still charmed by the IT industry, however this trend is changing and bright youngsters are choosing careers in the power industry looking at the long-term growth perspective,” says Anil Kumar Challyil, technical services manager, Arrow Electronics.
In the times of an economic slowdown, the government looks to pump in more with respect to public expenditure, thus ensuring continuous job creation. For this reason, the power sector has the greatest element of anti-cyclical behaviour, thereby maintaining a healthy growth rate.
—Sunil Bhatnagar, director, Parker Power System
As an electronics professional you may find your place in the power circuit design section of a solutions providing firm. But opportunities are present even in the maintenance, instrumentation and control sections of any power plant. Work opportunities in the power sector primarily include creation, expansion and enlarging of existing units by utilising both renewable and non-renewable energy sources. Upgradation of the existing capacity through modernisation of equipment and introduction of new technolo-gies and better instrumentation may finally open up new job opportunities.
Adjunct systems operating with core infrastructure, such as smart energy management systems for commercial and industrial units, may be a right choice for your career.
You may ask “How to get an entry ticket?” A decent technical background (ITI, diploma or graduation) along with fundamental knowledge can secure your job ticket. However, for some fields requiring specialised knowledge such as R&D, recruiters look for postgraduates and doctorates. Many employers take campus recruits and train them directly in different areas of power projects to prepare them for various roles in the company. Thankfully, most of the big players in this sector still believe in talent building rather than raiding. This was further confirmed by Neelam Kumar, executive director and head of the department-power electronics, Aplab, who considers talent building as a part of social responsibility.
Power in your pocket
Let’s check whether this field is powerful enough to fill your pocket to a good extent. You could be part of a major project as a junior engineer and grow in 10-12 years’ time to head major projects. Speaking of salary prospects, fresh engineering graduates usually start at Rs 200,000-Rs 350,000 per annum and can grow into either generalist or specialist roles. However, the scene is a little daunting for diploma holders as their starting salary range is usually Rs 150,000 to 200,000 per annum.
Even at this moment of economic downturn, the power sector is offering salaries in the range of Rs 500,000 to Rs 1 million per annum for professionals with 5-7 years of experience. It should, however, be noted that for design-related roles, the salary is usually closer to the upper limit. Nonetheless, if you grab an international opportunity, the minimum salary may move up to around Rs 2 million within five years.
Explore the power circuit
We do find that entry-level technical graduates are still charmed by the IT industry. However, this trend is changing and bright youngsters are choosing careers in the power industry looking at the long-term growth perspective.
—Anil Kumar Challyil, technical services manager, Arrow Electronics
I believe, up to this point, you have got enough boosters from the opportunities-to-be-grabbed in the power field. So get ready now to explore the power circuit. The power field is specifically suitable for engineering professionals with multidisciplinary interests, such as magnetics and mechanics. Exciting and technically satisfying careers can be pursued in the fields of technical marketing, design engineering, project management, and integration and servicing.
If you consider the application of power electronics, I must say it is present
We believe in building our talent pool by inducting young professionals and grooming them into competent power professionals through various HR interventions. We have developed a well-structured system for recruiting fresh engineering graduates and diploma holders at the executive level. We recruit people not only on the basis of qualification and skill repertoire but, more importantly, also for their attitude and cultural fit with the company. We even arrange training programmes for students of different technical institutes.
—Neelam Kumar, executive director and head of the department – power electronics, Aplab
wherever there is a need for control and conversion of electric power. It may be the tiny converter of your mobile phone in the range of some milliwatts, or a giant one of hundreds of megawatts in a high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) transmission system. The main metric of power electronics is energy efficiency. And as a professional you are expected to acquire knowledge and skills needed to design practical power electronics systems. If you can achieve it, then control, instrumentation and maintenance of power systems will automatically be on your fingertips. Largely, this is a technical field and so domain expertise and process knowledge are very important. Because of the technology-driven nature of this field, professionals must at all times keep themselves abreast of the latest improvements and technological up-gradations that are taking place instead of focusing only on their departmental concerns. In addition to technical skills, recruiters are also looking for competencies such as interpersonal skills and drive for end results down the ranks. Don’t get nervous. You are not expected to know everything but your learning ability should be high as a lot of training takes place on the job.
Keep in mind that power electronics is primarily concerned with the processing of electrical power using electronic devices. So the key element is the switching converter. All other devices are improved versions of it.
In general, a switching converter comprises three ports—power input port, power output port and control. Converters are even classified according to the nature of these ports. For example, in a simple DC-DC converter, the DC input voltage is converted into a DC output voltage by changing its magnitude. The device may perform some additional functions like rectification and inversion of voltage, thereby acquiring the names ‘rectifier’ and ‘inverter,’ respectively. The third port, i.e., control, is required to produce a well-regulated output voltage in presence of variations in the input and load currents.
I have already mentioned the metric of power process. High efficiency is a must for any processing system. The primary reason for this is not to save money on one’s electricity bill or conserve energy. Rather, according to power rule, it is impractical to design a low-efficiency converter which can produce high voltage output.
The next thing that you need to know is the application of power electronics. A basic design is modified according to the need of the application. Let’s consider an aerospace application of power electronics. In the power system of an earth-orbiting spacecraft, a solar array produces the main power bus voltage. A DC-DC converter converts the bus voltage into the regulated voltage required by the spacecraft payloads. Battery charge controllers interface the main power bus to the batteries; this controller may also have a DC-DC converter. The power systems of almost all spacecrafts and aircrafts follow this simple scheme.
On the other hand, in an electrically driven vehicle, batteries are charged by converters that draw high-factor sinusoidal current from a single-phase or a three-phase AC line. The batteries supply power to the variable-speed AC motors to propel the vehicle. The speed of the AC motor is controlled by the variation of the electrical input frequency. The inverter produces three-phase variable output to control the speed of the motor as well as the vehicle. In some applications, a DC-DC converter steps down the original voltage to a lower level according to the electronics need of the systems.
The list of examples may be endless. So instead of mugging up the nitty-gritty of individual systems, try to understand the function of the individual elements, so that you can use them to design the power system of your choice. You may put special emphasis on various common systems to recheck your understanding. A general understanding of locomotives, battery chargers for telecommunications, inverter systems for applications involving renewable energy generation such as wind and photovoltaic conversion, and also general power utility systems may help you comprehend any unknown power system that you may come across.
Know the elements of power electronics
Undoubtedly, one of the things that makes power electronics interesting is its incorporation of elemental concepts from diverse set of fields. As a power electronics professional, you may come across the basics of analogue circuits, electronic devices, control systems, power systems, magnetics, electric machines and even numerical solutions.
In the IT/ITES segment, with energy efficiency and reduction of operational costs becoming critical business goals, two major trends in data centre infrastructure design are notable today: power efficiency and power distribution.
—Pramod Agashe, COO of APW
Thus the practice of power electronics requires a broad understanding of electrical as well as electronics engineering. In addition, there are fundamental concepts which are unique to power electronics and require specialised study.
Let’s start with the switching mode. High-frequency switching makes converter modeling the central element of your study. You need to know how to put a converter in equilibrium. The principles of steady-state converter analysis including inductor-volt-second balance, capacitor charge balance and small ripple approximation are of great importance. Try to get a clear idea of how these principles are applied in boost (capable of voltage increase), buck (capable of voltage decrease) and cuk (capable of inverting the voltage priority) converters. For example, ripple approximation greatly simplifies the analysis, especially in a well-designed converter where the switching ripples in inductor current and capacitor voltage are comparatively small with respect to the DC component.
Another important element is circuit modeling. You are expected to understand how the DC transformer model is manipulated and solved using conventional circuit analysis techniques. How the models can be refined to account for loss elements such as inductor-winding resistance and semiconductor ‘on’ resistance and voltage drops?
Realise the field
Now that you are aware of the basic elements, it’s time to realise the modus operandi of the actual devices. Switch realisation would be a good starting point. Knowledge about majority carrier devices like MOSFETs and minority carrier devices like BJTs, IGBTs and thyristors is must. Additional knowledge like the operation of unidirectional switches to handle discontinuous conduction mode, may give you an edge over your competitors.
Converter circuit is another important matter that needs thorough understanding. Basically, circuit manipulation, transformer isolation along with circuit evaluation and design related skill sets are in high demand. Try to get familiar with converter dynamics and control. The basic understanding of modelling and averaging approaches will be an added advantage.
In the next step, you have to perform the actual design job by applying all those techniques and concepts discussed so far. Controller design and input filter design are the two major challenges in this field.
Your next challenge is to provide a solution for real-life systems. Go beyond your textbook and enter your own power electronics design laboratory. Try to collect some problems pertaining to AC and DC equivalent circuit modelling and resonant conversion and chalk out possible solutions. Last but not the least, update yourself on the latest technological advances in this field.
Prepare for the future challenges
Bear in mind that technological advances are meant to increase energy efficiency and reduce operational cost. As a result, the present era is solely dedicated to green energy and energy-saving equipment. Understand this hidden demand and keep pace with it. Your final-year project may be on the utilisation of solar energy or wind energy to run a traditional power system—a solar power fuel dispenser, for example. In fact, there are many ingenious ways to improve power efficiency through various innovations.
According to industry veterans like Pramod Agashe, COO of APW, traditional power distribution units often fail to cope with today’s high-density computing environments, so designing of efficient power distribution system for data centres may be a good challenge. Any of these real problems may be your next food for thought.
Perhaps, at this moment the dilemma about your career prospect is driving you nuts. Boost up your brain. Dig down the power field. It will provide you not only a secure job but the opportunity to be an active part of a nation-building story.