Research initiates dialogue
on smart grid technology
There's an illustration used in the energy industry to highlight the
need for updates to existing energy grid management systems. The
story goes that if telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell were
to visit the 21st century, he would not recognize smartphones or
the explosion of complicated modern telecommunications
equipment; but Thomas Edison, inventor of the first electrical
power plant and distribution network in the late 19th century,
would be right at home in the "modern" power grid.
It's an exaggerated comparison, but points to the realities of a
challenged energy grid, and the ever-increasing demands of today's
industrial, commercial and residential energy consumers.
Government and industry figures vary, but they agree that smart
grid technologies have great potential to reduce consumption
through real-time control and automation of electricity delivery.
Smart grid innovations are already being implemented in many
sectors. University of Delaware graduate student Diane Vondrasek
is conducting research on smart grid technology and how it will
affect energy management strategies and profitability in the U.S.
Diane Vondrasek with her master's
thesis committee: Prof. Paul Sestak,
Vondrasek, Prof. Ali Poorani,
Prof. Francis Kwansa [Photo by Evan Krape]
"Smart grid technology adoption is one of the emerging solutions
to energy management in the U.S., and Diane's research is the first
to specifically address the subject in the lodging industry,"
commented Vondrasek's research chair Francis Kwansa, associate
chair of the HRIM department and director of the graduate program.
The M.S. in Hospitality Information Management is an
interdisciplinary program focusing on information management
and the use of technology to solve problems in the hospitality
industry, said Kwansa. "In response to industry requests to 'send
us technology savvy graduates,' the HRIM department made a
strategic decision for the graduate program's focus," noted
Dr. Kwansa. "This has become our niche in the hospitality academy."
In addition, the program relies on collaboration with UD's HRIM
Technology Advisory Board, composed of chief information
officers or chief technology officers, as well as practitioners, from
leading hospitality companies. Said Kwansa, "The Advisory Board
plays an important role in helping us keep our graduate curriculum
current and pointing us toward skills that are relevant for graduate
students interested in careers in this field."
Delphi methodology facilitates conversation
Vondrasek selected the Delphi method for her research. Developed
by RAND scientists in the 1950s, the technique has been widely
used in science and technology forecasting, and more recently, in
successful business forecasting. It involves surveying a panel of
experts through a series of confidential questionnaires, which
ensures the candid exchange of ideas among study participants.
Vondrasek's background as an engineer with 10 years' experience in
the commercial nuclear power industry proved a good fit for her
inquiry. Contacting high-profile experts and executives in the
industry, Vondrasek asked them to participate in the study. "I set
out to identify lodging industry innovators, people who had the
ability and the inclination to look outside the lodging 'box,' who
moved in a variety of professional circles, and could see and
embrace the future. I was buoyed by the excellent reputations of the
HRIM department, the Lerner College, and UD, and I am
absolutely thrilled with the response," she said.
UD's Ali Poorani is an associate professor of hospitality education,
and a member of Vondrasek's thesis committee. "Experiential data
from the hotel industry shows that energy consumption is the
number one challenge for the industry's cost savings and reduced
carbon emissions," said Poorani. "To address major challenges of
energy consumption, the industry needs to have open
conversation and share best practices. The Delphi technique
helps to engage various constituents in this endeavor."
"The industry is widely represented," said Vondrasek.
"Study participants are lodging industry executives
responsible for energy management in their respective
lodging companies, leading industry energy management
system companies, and leading industry consulting
companies. They represent independent hoteliers; industry
giants; historic properties, new builds, and everything in
between; franchise and enterprise-managed models; cutting edge
energy management solution providers and more."
Prospects for future collaboration
Vondrasek's research is not yet complete, but the start of a productive
dialogue is already apparent. In the study, respondents read about
and reacted to the experiences and practices reported by their
counterparts in the industry. "Some respondents have expressed an
interest in exchanging ideas outside the study boundaries, after
reading about innovations adopted by their co-respondents. Study
participants are practitioners who want to discuss solutions and
implement them in their own environments."The participants
remain anonymous throughout the study; however, Vondrasek noted
that future collaboration among respondents may be explored.
"The most promising lines of questioning are the ones in which
study participants express their vision of future smart grid
technology adoption," said Vondrasek. "Although this is the first
time they have had the opportunity to share their ideas about these
energy management tools, they have not been slow to consider
and/or adopt smart grid technologies. Study participants are
industry innovators, and they welcome the future."
"Research that elucidates practical solutions is exciting," said
Vondrasek. "In the end, we will have a benchmark by which
industry smart grid technology adoption progress may be
measured. I sincerely hope that the discourse that has transpired
throughout the study will sustain the conversation and allow
industry experts to eventually capture a collective industry
leadership role on the international energy management stage."
Dr. Kwansa added, "Prior to Diane's research corporate energy
experts knew what they knew about their company's efforts in the
area of energy management and believed that smart grid
technology adoption was not quite on corporate tables for serious
discussions yet. Through the Delphi study, there is greater
awareness now among the participants of what other companies are
doing and not doing. It has also accelerated the need for forums
and opportunities for more discussions about this topic."
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