GE opening tourist attraction to explain 'smart grid'

But electrons?

People behind the $15 million GE Smart Grid Technology Center of Excellence in Cobb County believe the so-called customer experience showcase to open on the ground floor of the center in October will be a legitimate attraction for science geeks and novices alike. It will have video demonstrations and interactive displays to help explain exactly what the smart grid is, and why it's the future.

The smart grid, which has been labeled "the energy Internet," combines modern information technologies with the existing and outdated electrical infrastructure or grid, allowing for a more efficient, less wasteful and more stable delivery of power to consumers. It can lead to lower costs, fewer power outages and more use of green power.

GE, at the forefront in the development of the smart grid, is working with Georgia Tech in the project that state officials say could help establish metro Atlanta as a hub of  the growing green energy industry, offering significant long term job and development benefits for the company, the school and the region.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded $100 million in grants to companies and colleges to train people in the technology, and President Barack Obama has spoken in support of smart grid development.

The smart grid center's exhibition area will take up 10,000 square feet on the ground floor of a building that, beginning in July, will house engineers and other employees working in GE's Digital Energy unit world headquarters.

Part of that area will be tailored to the expertise and interests of engineers and other technical types who can do a "deep dive" into the applications of smart grid. The other part is designed to inform and entertain the less technically savvy.

The center will be open to schools and organized groups only, not to the general public. There will be no admission charge, though reservations might be needed.

"When we put the design together we thought about the different personas we would be bringing through the showcase," said Rich Quintal, who manages the project for GE Energy. "Of course they were the electric utilities and the engineers, but also the local Cub Scout troop or the high school student who may be doing a project on the smart grid, or a teacher in the classroom. We tried to keep all these groups in mind."

"It'll have varying degrees of how deep you can drill down," added Meg Chapman, GE Digital Energy spokeswoman.

The GE Smart Grid Technology Center of Excellence was announced in April and brought a positive response because it will mean 400 new, high-paying jobs for the area. So far, 155 employees have been hired, including 115 engineers. Overall, GE has 5,000  employees in Georgia, 2,500 with GE Energy.

John Rice, GE vice-chairman, said a lot more jobs could be coming to the area in the future because of the center.

Some new hires are already in place,  including senior systems engineer Manyphay Souvannarath, 33, who moved to Atlanta a month ago from Michigan, leaving a utility company. She took a job as a smart grid architect.

"It's an exciting thing," she said. "The whole smart grid initiative has encouraged people to think twice about how they use energy."

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