CSE and Humphrey Institute students win national prize for poster that illustrates smart grid technologies research

It isn’t until an event like Hurricane Sandy that the general public understands the importance of reliable electrical systems and the smart grid technologies that help them run more efficiently. While the superstorm brought widespread recognition of the vulnerability of the U.S. power grid—which some consider aging and in need of update—a research team led by Humphrey School of Public Affairs Associate Professor Elizabeth Wilson began examining the context of smart grid technologies and deployment for a project funded by the National Science Foundation long before the storm hit.

“The term ‘smart grid’ is vague, and everyone has a different vision of what the technologies can do,” says Wilson, who began her research project in 2011. “These technologies will shape the power system in the United States and have national and global policy impacts.”

Two graduate students working on Wilson’s team—Mudita Suri, who graduates this spring with a Master of Science in electrical engineering and minor in energy policy, and Clark Koenigs (MPP ’11)—recently won a national competition for creating a poster that summarizes the various components of smart grid technologies research. The poster includes background about how the technologies are governed, policy analysis, and research methodology.

“My work with the science, technology, and environmental policy program has given me a well-rounded experience," says Suri. "Not only can I tell you about technology and energy, but I also can actually tell you how much things cost and the policies behind them.”

Suri’s research with Wilson covers a wide range of subjects related to power transmission and distribution systems that focus on federal, state, and local policy making. The team has analyzed more than 200 policy documents, conducted focus groups and interviews with stakeholders, and analyzed media reports.

The students’ award-winning poster beat others created by Ph.D. students from M.I.T., Stanford University, and the University of Texas–Austin. The University of Minnesota students will share a $3,000 award. Perhaps the best prize of all for Suri is the job she recently landed at Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO), which handles electricity transmission planning for 11 states, including Minnesota.