Avista Power Lab Aims to Prepare Students for a Smarter Grid

June 6, 2013
A five-year pledge commitment totaling $325,000 from Avista Corp. will support research innovation and better prepare Washington State University students for new smart grid technologies.

A five-year pledge commitment totaling $325,000 from Avista Corp. will support research innovation and better prepare Washington State University students for new Smart Grid technologies.

Avista’s pledge will support WSU’s newly formed Energy Systems Innovation Center as well as WSU’s undergraduate power engineering curriculum, including the purchase of state-of-the-art technology for the power engineering lab.

"WSU has committed to partnering with industry to advance clean technology and to expand our power engineering program, and we are pleased and grateful to see Avista step up to make this investment,’’ said WSU President Elson S. Floyd. "Industry involvement from a company like Avista is a key component in attracting top faculty, in further enhancing this program’s reputation, and in better educating the workforce needed to grow our economy.’’

The power industry is facing a dramatic need for engineers, with approximately half of its workforce eligible for retirement in the next five years.  WSU has recently received support at both the state and federal level to increase the number of engineering and computer science students to meet demand, particularly in the electric power industry.

With a long history and prominent international reputation in power engineering and collaborative, interdisciplinary research, WSU has led the development and incorporation of new technologies aimed at improving the efficiency and reliability of electric power and energy systems and is one of the leading power engineering programs in the country.

"Avista’s longstanding partnership with the College of Engineering and Architecture at WSU is an investment in the future for Avista,’’ said Dennis Vermillion, President of Avista Utilities. "Over the years, we’ve both benefited from our collaboration. We’ve made great strides to further power engineering education and research in the state and region. Together we’ll discover new technologies that help people conserve and use energy more efficiently.’’

"Our partnership also helps ensure that we’ll have the well-trained workforce that is critical for Avista as we build our energy future,’’ Vermillion added. "We’re excited by the possibilities as we look ahead to many more years of successful collaboration.”

The Avista support will go toward lab improvements, such as incorporating renewable energy and improving communications systems. Support from Avista will help make some of the latest state-of-the-art technology available for undergraduates.

Avista is also one of seven charter members of the newly formed Energy Systems Innovation Center (ESIC).  With a unique, holistic approach that bridges disciplines from engineering to the social sciences, the ESIC is a pioneering, multidisciplinary center that emphasizes the interactions between people and smart grid technology in a societal context. Current research focus areas include information collection, delivery, and analysis; integration of renewable energy resources; decision support, public policy, human behaviors, and economics; efficiency on the demand side (buildings); efficient use of right-of-way and associated economic issues; and cyber security of the smart grid.

"We are grateful to Avista for its generous contribution,’’ said Chen-Ching Liu, director of the ESIC. "It will have a direct impact in helping us to address our nation’s most important challenges in clean energy.’’

Avista’s pledge will also support undergraduate education through the Power Engineering Partner program. The funds support mini internships for students, in which students participate in a practicum course in areas such as substation design, utility operations, and transmission, and gain hands-on learning and the chance to interact with a potential employer. The company is also providing general operating support for the power engineering program for things such as travel for students to attend professional meetings, scholarship supplements, faculty seminars, and seed money for grants.

The generous commitment from Avista is a part of "The Campaign for Washington State University: Because the World Needs Big Ideas" (see Since July 2006, the campaign has raised more than $785.5 million toward a $1 billion goal to increase support for WSU’s students, faculty, research, and programs and to leverage the University’s impact across the state, nation, and world.

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