Electrical Distribution for Non-Engineers


Spend six weeks with Doug Houseman and change the trajectory of your career

Instructor: Doug Houseman

Subjects: Utilities: Electrical Distribution

Length: 6 weeks


Developed In Partnership With DISTRIBUTECH and POWERGRID International

This course introduces the design, equipment, people, and processes of the electric distribution system. It is designed for non-engineers, and people new to distribution. The course covers traditional distribution, the changes brought about by distributed energy resources (e.g. Photovoltaic on the roof, and storage), and the impact of electrification of transportation.

The material should help someone just stating in the industry, someone in a regulatory role without an industry background, staff members of officeholders who have to provide input on electrical issues, college students, and others who want to understand how the grid works, and why. Quick side trips to explain what is different in large cities, Europe and other difference in distribution design are important to understand.

The course will introduce key roles in the distribution utility, what they are called and what they do, it will introduce key processes and the systems that support them, what the real vulnerabilities in distribution are to attackers. Finally it will take a quick detour into rates, tariffs, net metering and transactive energy, so that attendees will have an idea of how distribution costs are paid for. This includes explaining the difference in accounting, investment and executive focus.

This is a foundational course for anyone interested in a career in electrical distribution. Instructor Doug Houseman has been called "a leading visionary and innovator in utility and grid modernization" and has earned his reputation as a world-class educator. His live courses fill up quickly, so this is a rare opportunity to spend six weeks learning from Doug in an interactive online learning environment.

Ready To Sign Up Today? Click Here to Enroll

Flexible Online Training for Industry Professionals

You can begin this online course instantly upon enrollment. Get access to all of the course materials as soon as you enroll. The instructor-led session will begin on the scheduled start date. During the session dates the instructor will be in the course answering questions on the discussion board. After the instructor-led session ends, you'll continue to have access to all of the course materials for a full year and can complete the course at your own pace.

Access Information and Build Your Training Library

After enrolling, the course materials will remain in your account and be accessible 12 months (1 year) after the session end date. Access can be extended beyond 1 year with a monthly membership. Rewatch videos and review assignments as many times as you want. View updates the instructor makes to the course as the industry advances. Return to your course anytime with online access from anywhere in the world.

Earn A Certificate of Completion

When you complete this course you are eligible for a certificate of completion from HeatSpring. You can download your certificate as soon as you have completed all of the course requirements. Students can easily share their verified certificates on their LinkedIn profiles using our LinkedIn integration.


Doug Houseman

Burns & McDonnell

Doug Houseman is the Grid Modernization Lead for Burns & McDonnell. He was the VP for Technical Innovation for EnerNex, he has been involved in a wide range of industry projects, the two most recent are GridVision 2050 for IEEE and CEATI Distribution Technology Roadmap Reports. Doug is a member of the DOE's Gridwise Architecture Council and the Chairperson for IEEE...[more]

Course Outline

Welcome - Orientation Materials

This course is self-paced, so you don’t need to be logged in at any specific time. You can complete the material whenever is convenient and work ahead or catch up if you fall behind. The course discussion board is a great place to interact with other students and ask questions. Expect to dedicate a minimum of 5 hours per week to the course. The instructor-led session runs for the posted dates and you will receive weekly emails to keep you on pace. Course materials will remain in your account with minimum guaranteed access for 12 months (1 year) after the session ends. Please review the orientation materials and introduce yourself on the discussion board.

  • Introduction to HeatSpring (Video - 01:25 minutes) preview
  • Set up email notifications and your student profile (Text)
  • Introduce yourself on the discussion board (Text)
Week 1 - Introduction to Distribution Networks

What is distribution and how does that differ from transmission. Discussion of terms (e.g. on-grid, off-grid, islanded, microgrid, etc. Understanding why design matters. Topics include:

  • Overhead
    • Radial
    • Networked
    • Single phase laterals
  • Underground
    • Spot (or low voltage) networks (Downtowns in larger communities)
    • Primary and secondary networked (Europe/Urban)
    • Radial
  • Differences in transformer placement for secondary voltage
    • European/Asian style
    • US style
    • In rural areas
    • Industrial and campus substations
  • Design influences
    • Voltage classes
    • Load
    • Density of customers
    • Reliability
    • Electric Vehicles
    • Distributed Generation
  • Micro-grids
    • What are they
    • Why most micro-grids are not
    • Why real micro-grids cost money
Week 2 - Equipment used to build networks
  • Poles and conductor
    • Overhead
      • Poles types
      • Conductor types
      • Comparison between copper and aluminum
    • Underground
      • Conductor types
      • Conduit vs direct burial
      • Splicing
  • Equipment
    • Location
      • Padmount
      • Vault
      • Manhole
      • Overhead
    • Types
      • Transformers
      • Capacitor banks
      • Reclosers
      • Sectionalizers
      • Remote Fault Indicators
      • Arrestors
      • Cutouts and fuses
  • Customer owned equipment (that matters)
    • Photovoltaics (solar) – rooftop and elsewhere
    • Back up and other rotating generation
    • Storage
    • Electric Vehicles & their chargers
Week 3 - Changing the Grid


  • Distributed Generation
  • Distributed Storage
  • Demand Response

Grid Modernization and Distribution Automation

  • Real time communications to the field
  • More sensors
  • More controls
  • Better software for control centers

Internet of things (home control)

  • Voice activated devices
  • More active energy profiles

Electric vehicles and Electrification

  • EV’s
  • Moving from natural gas, oil and other fuels to electricity for heating
  • Fuel free future


  • What is resiliency and why is it different from reliability
  • Weather driven needs for higher resiliency
  • Customer driven demands for higher resiliency

A brief intro to grid security

  • Physical
  • Cyber
  • Safety
Week 4 - Roles and Processes in Distribution
  • Planning engineer
  • Planner
  • Standards engineer
  • Equipment engineer
  • Design engineer
  • Supervising Engineer
  • Chief Engineer
  • Mapping
  • Safety
  • Lineman
  • Trouble man
  • Dispatcher
  • Operator
  • Warehouse person
  • Logistics person
  • Purchasing
  • Accounting and budgeting, legal, management, and other general staff
  • Regulatory staff
  • Customer service representative (CSR)
  • I&C Tech
  • OT staff
  • Interconnections
Week 5 - Key Processes
  • New Load
  • Interconnections
  • Planning
  • Line and substation design
  • Construction standards
  • Operations
  • Storm Planning and Recovery
  • Construction
  • Patrolling
  • Vegetation management
Week 6 - Financials of a Distribution Network

Key costs

  • Planning, engineering and patrols
  • Vegetation management
  • Maintenance
  • Storm recovery
  • Construction
  • Fleet
  • Monitoring and operations

Revenue sources

  • Tariffs
  • Extensions for new customers
  • Customer requested upgrades to service
  • Services that customers are willing to pay for

Three financial models

  • Municipal utilities & government owned
  • Co-operatives
  • Investor owned utilities

Changes to the traditional revenue

  • Net metering
  • Transactive energy
  • Micro-grids
  • Electric vehicles
  • Energy efficiency
  • Internet of Things and demand response
  • Time of use and real time pricing
After The Course - Feedback and Additional Resources

No matter how great this course is, we know it's just one part of a bigger journey. In this module we'll start thinking about what comes next. You'll provide feedback on the course and learn about additional resources.

Don't forget that you'll have access to the course materials for 12 months after the session ends. Feel free to come back as much as you like to continue learning, and please stay in touch. After your year of access expires you can optionally extend access with a HeatSpring Membership.

  • 1 Year of Access to Course Materials (Text)
  • Feedback: 2-minute Exit Survey (Survey)
  • Consider Joining as a HeatSpring Member (Resource)
  • Certificate of Completion: Request a Certificate (Certificate)