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CSG Scholarship Develops Environmental Leaders

Sandhya Sundararagavan

A scholarship created by the Conservation Services Group (CSG) of Westborough, Massachusetts, and the SunPower Foundation of San Jose, California, supports students whose education is directly related to energy efficiency, clean energy, and environmental protection. A total of three students, one each from the College of Engineering, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and the Isenberg School of Management, are currently receiving $7,666 apiece from the fund. The engineering recipient of the CSG scholarship is Ms. Sandhya Sundararagavan, a graduate student in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department (MIE). Her research focuses on identifying the characteristics of electricity storage technologies that are important for integration of intermittent renewable energy technologies onto the grid.

She is also assessing potential improvements that will make these emerging technologies more competitive in the electric power industry.

“Global energy demand, growth, energy security, and climate change due to human activities are some of the major factors urging people to consider renewable sources of energy,” explains Sandhya. “A problem with some of these renewable energy sources arises, however, since they are intermittent by nature. For the grid to be stable and reliable, the supply of power must equal the demands of the consumer at every moment during the day.”

The “2009-2010 Conservation Services Group 25th Anniversary Energy Efficiency & Clean Energy Scholarship” was established with a fund of $25,000. The scholarship was launched in order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of CSG and give back to the community. According to the terms of the scholarship, the studies or research of all three UMass Amherst recipients must be related either to the promotion of energy efficiency, energy policy, conservation, clean energy, or sustainable living practices to help protect the environment and mitigate climate change. Applicants had to be either graduate students or full-time undergraduates in their sophomore, junior, or senior years.

Sandhya is pursuing her research with MIE Professor Erin Baker in the Energy, Environment, and Economic Decision Making Laboratory. Sandhya also gained experience in energy auditing as a research assistant at the UMass Amherst Industrial Assessment Center (IAC), part of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Laboratory. IAC provides recommendations to companies to help them conserve energy, increase productivity, and minimize waste.

In her thesis, Sandhya considers various storage technologies, including batteries, superconducting magnetic energy storage, super capacitors, flywheels, flow batteries, pumped hydro systems, and compressed air energy storage. She is performing a comparative analysis of various storage technologies, based on multiple performance criteria, and will suggest improvements in storage systems that could make them better storage technologies in the future.

“This scholarship will give me an opportunity to dig deeper into my research, which will in turn help me in analyzing various storage technology options,” Sandhya notes. “With this award, I am hoping to develop a multi-criteria model for evaluating improvements in storage technologies as they impact the integration of renewables onto the grid. This could help entrepreneurs and utilities aim their research towards improving characteristics, exploring different research directions, and thus obtaining an ideal storage technology.”

Since 1984, CSG, a non-profit corporation, has helped utilities, government agencies, public groups, consumers, and other organizations protect the environment by promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. Long before climate change became front-page news, CSG adhered to a simple mission: to protect the environment and build a socially responsible, clean-energy economy. Since it was founded, CSG has grown from one office and three employees to nearly 600 employees in 18 offices throughout the country.

The SunPower Foundation™ was created to empower, inspire, and motivate a new generation of solar energy leaders in communities around the world. Created by SunPower Corporation, the foundation is a nonprofit organization working with partners globally to accelerate the move to renewable energy.

Sandhya’s scholarship will further the missions of both CSG and the SunPower Foundation. “A year from now,” says Sandhya, “I see myself as a successful energy analyst in the energy/utilities sector. I hope to contribute to the ongoing research, technology, and competitive trends in the global power industry that will help in building a clean green economy.” (February 2010)