Environmental scientist garners NSF grant for Smart Grid research

Monday, October 10, 2011

IDCE Assistant Professor Jennie Stephens is involved in several Smart Grid initiatives.

Jennie Stephens, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy in the Department of International Development, Community and Environment, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation (Science, Technology and Society Program) grant of $166,750 for her research on “Smart Grid: An Analysis of How Socio-Political Contexts Shape Energy Technology Development and Policy.”  This award is part of a collaboration with colleagues at the University of Minnesota and Texas A&M.

The term Smart Grid represents a complex set of technologies with potential to enhance the efficiency and reduce costs of electricity production, storage, transmission, distribution, and use. Smart Grid systems are also critical to scaling up renewable energy in the U.S. energy system, yet significant variation is apparent in visions of what these systems are and how they are developing.  Professor Stephens’s new NSF-funded research involves a comparative analysis of Smart Grid development and engagement in three electricity transmission regions of North America: the Midwest, New England, and Texas (both the Midwest and New England include Canadian interconnections) using policy review and analysis, focus groups, interviews, and media analysis in each of these three regions.  This project will enhance knowledge of the socio-political dynamics of sustainable energy technologies and identify potential challenges and conflicts.

In addition to increasing understanding of national, regional, and state-level influences on Smart Grid technology deployment, results of Professor Stephens’s research will inform energy professionals, state and regional planners, policy analysts, nonprofits, and businesses in developing more effective strategies for involving the public in Smart Grid technology design, technology implementation, and policy formation.

This project is synergistic with other Smart Grid initiatives that Stephens is involved in both at the international and local levels. Stephens was invited to participate in an international workshop on “Constructing Smart Grids: Technology Innovation, Political Choice, and the Challenge of Sustainable Energy” on Oct. 6 in Quebec, Canada, where she presented on “Multi-Level Governance and the Challenge of Smart Grids.”

Stephens and others at Clark University are also engaged in various ways in considering Smart Grid and sustainable energy development in Worcester and the Central Massachusetts region. Stephens was among several faculty, administrators, and Clark students who recently participated in two local Smart Grid events: (1) a “Green Today, Growth Tomorrow” Community Summit at the DCU Center September 19-20 was focused on Smart Grid and hosted by the utility company, National Grid, as it prepares to submit a Worcester Smart Grid Pilot Project proposal to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, and (2) the Smart Grid Venture Showcase at Worcester Tech High School on September 29 was hosted by the Institute for Energy and Sustainability in partnership with the Consulate General of Canada and the U.K.-based SETsquared organization. These initiatives are also related to another project supported by the Mosakowski Institute in which Stephens is collaborating with Mary-Ellen Boyle, Jing Zhang (GSOM), Steve McCauley (Marsh), and several Clark students to explore knowledge clusters and economic development in Worcester examining both biotech and sustainable energy.

This story originated on the IDCE News Blog.

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