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College of Business & Economics

Physical Address:
875 Campus Drive
J.A. Albertson Building 

Mailing Address:
College of Business & Economics University of Idaho 875 Perimeter Drive MS 3161 Moscow, ID 83844-3161

Phone: (208) 885-6478

Fax: (208) 885-5087

Email: cbe@uidaho.edu

ALB 125

Phone: (208) 885-6453

Fax: (208) 885-6296

Email: amberg@uidaho.edu

ALB 225

Phone: 208-885-6289

Fax: 208-885-5347

Email: rwulf@uidaho.edu

Physical Address:
J.A. Albertson Building
Third Floor, Room 306
875 Campus Drive

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS3161 Moscow, Idaho 83844-3161

Phone: (208) 885-7141

Fax: (208) 885-5087

Email: cbeadvising@uidaho.edu

Fueling the Energy Industry

Faculty Research Sheds New Light on Energy, Energy Policy

By Tara Roberts

Power is a powerful resource.

In 2014, the United States generated more than 4 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. That electricity came from petroleum products like oil and coal, from nuclear power, and from alternative sources such as hydroelectric dams, wind farms and solar panels. It powered homes and businesses, it supported economies and it sparked political debate.

As the population expands and demand for electricity grows, the energy industry needs unbiased data and innovative solutions to keep the power on. Researchers in the University of Idaho College of Business and Economics (CBE) are investigating a broad range of energy-related issues that complement the college’s programs supporting industry leaders and stakeholders.

“The College of Business and Economics houses the annual Utility Executive Course, the industry leader in utility executive education. We are also a key partner in the Legislative Energy Horizon Institute, a certificate program for U.S. and Canadian legislators on the North American energy infrastructure and delivery system,” says Mario Reyes, CBE dean.

CBE faculty research in energy issues further cements our status as a premier utility industry executive learning program.

Story One, Examining Energy Policy

A hot topic in Washington state this legislative session is Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed carbon cap-and-trade policy. His office used software that indicated jobs and gross state product would increase as energy prices increased – but UI assistant professor Steve Peterson’s research shows otherwise.

“Our analysis shows that it actually drops,” says Peterson, a clinical assistant professor of economics who collaborated on the project with Timothy Nadreau, a research economist and doctoral student at Washington State University.

Peterson acknowledges the controversial nature of the research, which was released as a report in February. The Washington Climate Collaborative, which opposes Inslee’s legislation, funded the project, but Peterson said the unbiased analysis is beneficial for people on any side of the debate.

“From an academic perspective, coming up with an accurate measure of this is important,” Peterson says. “If you’re going to address environmental problems of any kind, you need to have an accurate assessment of what the costs and benefits are going to be, and we think we contributed to that.”

Peterson expects his analytical model will prove useful for other states and regions, too. He plans to refine the model and explore the ways it could be applied to help governments make energy policy decisions – and clearly explain their implications.

View Steven Peterson's Faculty Profile

Story Two, Keeping the Lights On

When a power failure strikes, how can companies get their systems back online as quickly and efficiently as possible?

Shenghan Xu, an assistant professor of operations management at U of I, has spent the past two years studying this problem in conjunction with Idaho Power and collaborators at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Xu is an expert in network optimization – giving her the perfect perspective from which to examine power-grid data and test alternate scenarios.

“If you’re seeing your neighbor got power and you’re sitting in the dark, this is an unpleasant feeling,” Xu says.

Traditionally, companies follow a priority list to return power first to areas of the grid that serve places like hospitals and schools. But this creates service issues for other customers.

Her optimization models indicate it’s an unnecessary feeling, too.

“The major finding is if we do not add any constraints and special requests, we actually can recover the whole system in a faster manner,” Xu says. “The more priority rules you put in there, you slow down the process.”

Xu plans to expand her research to find more ways to reduce the severity and length of power outages. For example, she wants to extend her model to study how regional power companies can share tools and materials, especially in the rural West.

View Shenghan Xu's Faculty Profile

Story Three, Encouraging Solar Solutions

Tucson, Arizona, is a sunny city – so Tucson Electric Power was surprised when fewer people than expected signed up for a home solar-energy program.

To solve the mystery, the company asked Anubha Mishra, a previous assistant professor of marketing at U of I, and her colleague, Sabrina Helm of the University of Arizona, to study what motivated and inhibited people from joining the program.

Mishra’s research found that environmental concern and awareness of the program didn’t play a big role in people’s decisions to adopt solar panels. Rather, the concerns were financial and functional. People were uncertain about issues such as how much the payback from installing panels would be and whether they’d have a lag in their energy on cloudy days.

“Just the message of ‘You’re doing good by being green’ is not enough,” Mishra says.

Xu plans to expand her research to find more ways to reduce the severity and length of power outages. For example, she wants to extend her model to study how regional power companies can share tools and materials, especially in the rural West.

Her research also found that people who did adopt solar panels viewed them as a status symbol and talked to their friends about them. She’s now studying existing research to find effective ways to help people share their pride in their solar panels and share their energy-saving strategies with others, in an effort to not only help Tucson Electric Power, but also other companies who may want to start similar programs.

“We’re trying to use this data in a more general form and give a good idea for what might work,” Mishra says.

College of Business & Economics

Physical Address:
875 Campus Drive
J.A. Albertson Building 

Mailing Address:
College of Business & Economics University of Idaho 875 Perimeter Drive MS 3161 Moscow, ID 83844-3161

Phone: (208) 885-6478

Fax: (208) 885-5087

Email: cbe@uidaho.edu

ALB 125

Phone: (208) 885-6453

Fax: (208) 885-6296

Email: amberg@uidaho.edu

ALB 225

Phone: 208-885-6289

Fax: 208-885-5347

Email: rwulf@uidaho.edu

Physical Address:
J.A. Albertson Building
Third Floor, Room 306
875 Campus Drive

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS3161 Moscow, Idaho 83844-3161

Phone: (208) 885-7141

Fax: (208) 885-5087

Email: cbeadvising@uidaho.edu