Faced with a greater need for innovation than ever before, energy providers across the U.S. have placed a premium on developing the technical minds that will shape their industry’s future.

Over the next decade, according to the Electric power Research institute (EpRi), almost half the technical professionals in the utility industry will reach retirement age. At the same time, the number of engineers entering the industry has been falling, while the demand for energy is expected to grow 50 percent in 20 years.

To help create a new pipeline of technical professionals, lehigh is working to launch an Energy Systems Engineering institute (ESEI) in collaboration with PRI; the ESEI is an industry-university partnership that will serve as a center of excellence in education, research and technology transfer for the energy industry.

A goal of the ESEI, says John Coulter, associate dean for graduate studies and research in lehigh’s p.C. Rossin College of Engineering and applied Science, is to create a new generation of professional leaders in energy systems engineering.

The centerpiece of the new institute, says Coulter, will be an intensive, 10-month master of Engineering (M.Eng.) degree program in Energy Systems Engineering that will train science and engineering students to become future leaders in the energy industries.

Students in the proposed new m.Eng. program will complete courses in three core areas:

• Energy generation, including coal, nuclear, oil and gas, fusion, and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

• Energy management and Distribution, covering infrastructure systems, security, interconnections and distribution optimization.

• Energy and the Environment, including climate change, clean coal technologies and nuclear waste issues.

Students must also complete a project-management course as well as a hands-on research project related to a challenge facing the energy industry. Students will focus on their individual interest areas through technical electives offered by lehigh’s engineering, chemistry and physics departments, and related studies in business, earth and environmental sciences, and political science.

ESEI and the proposed new M.Eng. program are the product of two years of planning by officials from lehigh, EpRi and major utility companies, says Coulter. The program is expected to launch in 2009.

Coulter believes concerns over rising energy prices and energy’s impact on the environment will be a boon to the new institute.

“Students who begin careers in the energy industries now will spend their lives working on globally important issues,” he says. “This will be a very exciting field for engineers.”