Sustainability Hub

May 22, 2013

WPI student Mai Tomida, center, with National Grid president Marcy Reed and Massachusetts Secretary of Energy Richard Sullivan at an event to celebrate the utility company’s Sustainability Hub, where Tomida and other students will educate the public on National Grid’s smart grid pilot project.National Grid last week unveiled plans for the future home of its Sustainability Hub, a 2,200-square-foot facility situated in the middle of the utility company’s smart grid pilot project in Worcester. The center, with the help of students from WPI, Clark University, and the College of the Holy Cross, will provide interactive education about energy efficiency and emerging technologies. The company considers it an integral part of its smart grid pilot—now called the Smart Energy Solutions Program—serving 15,000 customers who choose to participate.

National Grid’s program provides customers with a new level of choice and control over their energy use through advanced technology, with the goal of empowering customers to save energy, potentially increasing electric service reliability and improving response to power outages. Massachusetts Energy Secretary Richard Sullivan, representatives of the city of Worcester, local students, and community leaders gathered across the street from the Sustainability Hub location, now being renovated, to announce the program.

Mai Tomida ’15, a chemical engineering major, is one of six in the National Grid Engineering Ambassadors program from WPI. In this program, engineering students complete a specially designed leadership and communications workshop, learning to communicate technical information to a variety of audiences. In this role, Tomida and her fellow Ambassadors will present to groups of middle- and high school students, focusing on the power industry and smart grid applications. They will also explain to customers how the smart grid system works.

“As one of the National Grid engineering ambassadors, my role will be to connect customers and this sustainability project directly,” she says. “There will be a lot of questions about this once the system is installed, and my understanding is that I will be trained to be able to answer those questions and explain why/how the system is better/smarter.

“I think this is why ambassadors are perfect for the Sustainability Hub project to connect with customers.”

National Grid’s pilot was approved by the state Department of Public Utilities in August 2012. The full pilot launch is planned for early 2014.

Tomida says she will start an internship with National Grid next month with two other Ambassadors.

“I absolutely think this is important, and will have a great impact in the future,” she says of the Sustainability Hub. “Right now we talk about going green, encouraging to recycle/reuse and saving energy, but I’m not sure what exactly is getting done by people. I believe it’s really critical to change everyone’s behavior by educating first, and this sustainability project allows people to think and choose their own life style.

“We will have more options on when and how much of energy to use; we will have more options during the peak time or avoid that time range to save energy and money? I’m really excited to be a part of this wonderful project, and to deliver the right message to everyone.”

Tomida is an international student, born in Japan and having lived in Egypt. English is not her native language, and part of her decision to apply for the program was to improve her communication and presentation skills, she says.

“As a chemical engineer, I absolutely love the materials I’ve learned so far and I would love to see more and more kids—especially girls—wanting to become an engineer one day,” she says. “It always brightens my day when I see their smiles during the activity, and it reminds me how important it is to keep sending the right messages.”

By Martin Luttrell