UM energy conference focuses on smarter consumption

Posted June 24, 2011, at 5:42 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Conserving energy and electricity is beneficial for consumers and companies, especially given the state of the economy, representatives from the University of Maine, utility companies, House of Representatives and researchers in academia and the private sector indicated during the University of Maine’s Haskell Energy Conference.

The conference, held Friday at Wells Conference on the UMaine campus and titled “Smart Grid,” focused on the opportunities, benefits, challenges and visions associated with the power grid, and how those enhancements will make the power grid smarter.

Speakers included General Electric director of technical strategy John McDonald, Smart Grid consumer collaborative executive director Patty Durand, State Rep. John Hink, Laney Brown and Brian Conroy from Central Maine Power and the Bangor Hydro Electric Co.’s Kendra Overlock.

Mohamed Musavi, an electrical and computer engineering professor at UMaine, said he was impressed with the turnout.

“We have 150 people from about 50 organizations,” he said. “And these are companies, government agencies, universities and other organizations.”

He said the conference’s objective was to give consumers and companies a general idea on how to use their electricity more efficiently.

“The next step is to make not only the power utilities transmit economically, but also [for] the consumers to use electricity in an economical way,” he explained. “The objective of this conference is to make the vision of the smart grid come true.”

The daylong conference was named after Robert Haskell, a 1929 graduate of UMaine who served as a Bangor Hydro chairman and in the state House of Representatives and Senate.

Overlock, the project manager at Bangor Hydro, emphasized that her company wants to reach out to their consumers more, particularly through the Web and social media.

“It’s going to take an effort of getting feedback from customers about what they really want to see on our website,” she said. “We want to hear from customers, using social media.”

Many of Bangor Hydro’s customers use its Web page to pay their bills, and Overlock and speakers from other companies urged customers to conserve energy in their homes.

“They were talking about providing more information to the users on how to use their electricity when it’s cheaper,” Musavi said, “and therefore changing people’s habits so they can pay less for their consumption.”

Musavi also hopes that students from UMaine who were in attendance can take away some valuable things from the conference.

“Students are the building blocks of not only our education but our research and development,” he said. “Therefore we are hoping that at the same time, we are providing them with research and education.”

Overlock is also hopeful that BHE customers can be smarter about conserving electricity.

“As you make choices of things that you do in your home, you can go online and see what the impacts of those choices are,” she said. “That’s part of understanding your usage pattern.”

Musavi echoed those comments.

“Consumers’ participation is a big part of this whole operation, and we’re hoping the people can get involved in this process,” he said.

The conference was designed for industry and state government personnel and was open to the public as well. Participants who attended could earn eight professional development hours toward the state’s professional engineering educational requirement.

It was funded with support from the Haskell Professorship in UMaine’s electrical and computer engineering department and the Maine IEEE Chapter of the Power and Energy Society.

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