Undergraduates win $5,700 Irving Institute grant

by Cassandra Thomas | 2/22/19 3:05am

As the only undergraduates in a pool of 36 applicants, Bill Cui ’21 and Harish Tekriwal ’21 outcompeted faculty members and researchers to win a $5,700 grant from the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society, which gave out nine inaugural grants last week. The Institute’s grant will last through the calendar year. 

Cui and Tekriwal will use their grant money to study an economic concept called demand response, in which energy markets incentivize consumers to lower their demand during peak hours of energy consumption, and reduce costs of energy usage. According to the students, demand response is an untapped resource that could be crucial to New Hampshire in particular. 

“This project is really relevant to the local, geographic and economic conditions here in New Hampshire,” Cui said. “It’s a really cold state, and during the winter we have a really high demand of energy, especially electricity. A lot of times, two things can happen. One, the price gets really high, which nobody wants. Second, sometimes we can get blackouts when the demand gets too high. People will almost always suffer.”

Cui and Tekriwal’s interest in energy was fostered by their summer internships at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year, which they attained through the First-Year Fellows program. Using their backgrounds in economics and quantitative social sciences, both students said that they found energy to be an exciting, interdisciplinary field.

“I think I’ve had a continued interest in energy because it’s an incredibly complicated market,” Tekriwal said. “I know it’s going to be really [important for] the future, trying to figure out how to deal with our country’s energy needs. It’s something that’s intellectually stimulating, something that’s really cool to be talking about right now.”

 Stephen Doig ’82, who serves as the Irving Institute’s managing director of research, has been heavily involved in the Institute’s grants and outreach in the last year. Doig emphasized the Institute’s goal to encourage interdisciplinary work within the field of energy. When choosing the recipients of the grants, Doig said that the fact that Cui and Tekriwal are undergraduate students gave them an edge by diversifying the pool of applicants.

“We were purposeful in the very broad net that we casted,” Doig said. “We really wanted to see what could come out from different parts of Dartmouth and understand where people’s interest was … [Cui and Tekriwal are] working in an area that’s super important because if they can figure how to educate the people who run the power system in New Hampshire on how to use demand response, they can actually have a beneficial impact on all consumers.”

Cui and Tekriwal said they were thrilled to find out that they received all the funding they asked for in their initial proposal. In the upcoming spring and summer terms, once Cui returns from a study abroad program, they will begin to collect data from energy markets in the Upper Valley and reach out to local energy companies and regulators. 

Tekriwal said they plan on looking at energy generators in the Upper Valley and meeting with people from the regional electricity provider ISO New England to discuss demand response. 

 The students have an opportunity to change energy consumption at Dartmouth, which is the largest employer in the state of New Hampshire and consequently a large consumer of energy.

“We want to investigate how we, Dartmouth as an institution, will be able to utilize these programs for lowering our operational costs and our environmental impact,” Cui said.

Throughout the course of their project, Cui and Tekriwal will work closely with locals, experts from FERC and faculty members. Doig said he has already arranged to meet with the students on a quarterly basis so that he can be updated on a project that carries great potential.

“With [Cui and Tekriwal], I’m really excited to see the results of their work,” Doig said. “I’m bullish that what they’re going to come up with will not only be super interesting, but [also] quite relevant to the state of New Hampshire.”

Aware of the importance of their project, Cui and Tekriwal said they are ready to apply their prior knowledge about energy and are optimistic about the results of their study.

“I think one of the things [Tekriwal] and I have in agreement is, ‘Let’s just not screw this up,’” Cui said. “On top of that, we’ll definitely do our best to see what we can achieve. It’s an interesting topic and I really believe it will have an impact on our Dartmouth community and New Hampshire in general. I can’t wait to see where it takes us.”