Rady Students Explore Frontier of Microgrids

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Rady MBA students Matthew Beaumont and Timothy Jackson pushed the frontier of smart grid technology during their summer internship by customizing a microgrid assessment tool for San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), a regulated public utility that provides energy to 3.4 million consumers in San Diego and southern Orange counties.

The pair joined two engineering students and a computer science student as part of the Team Internship Project at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.

The team worked to develop financial models to determine the most profitable way to implement a microgrid — a small-scale, smart electric grid that generates, distributes and manages its own energy with minimal dependence on the larger grid. For instance, the team's customizations help SDG&E decide if it would be profitable to put a microgrid in a new subdivision of homes. The tool also allows the company to determine how much electricity that microgrid should develop and save on its own and how much it should take from the larger grid to produce the greatest profit.

Beaumont, an architect, and Jackson, a lawyer, were excited to develop a project on the frontier of new technology.

“Working with the microgrid seems like starting at Microsoft in the 1980s,” Jackson said.

The team started by researching existing information on smart grids, a computerized system that offers more information about the production, distribution and use of electricity. They consulted with smart grid experts both at SDG&E and UC San Diego.

“We are learning how energy is generated and distributed, what kind of energy sources we are using and how people are using them,” Beaumont said.

But finding information was a challenge.

“A lot of the technologies for the microgrid that we rely upon are untested,” Jackson said. “They haven�t been built or used for 20 years.”

Jackson and Beaumont believe working on the up-and-coming technology will be an asset to their careers because few others will have their expertise in the burgeoning field.

“I think there is a lot of opportunity there,” Beaumont said. “Business opportunity was the key point.”