Researchers launch smart grid epicenter at NMSU


Enrico Pontelli speaks about his involvement in the iCREDITS research project on smartgrid technology during a resarch rally event at O'Donnell Hall. (Photo by Darren Phillips)
Enrico Pontelli speaks about his involvement in the iCREDITS research project on smartgrid technology during a resarch rally event at O’Donnell Hall. (Photo by Darren Phillips)

Professor Enrico Pontelli has received a $5 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s Center for Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) to launch research that will focus on intelligent technologies for smart grids and develop a broad culture of smart grids at New Mexico State University.

Pontelli and his colleagues were recognized for their efforts at a Research Rally held Friday, April 11, on the NMSU campus. There, Executive Vice President and Provost Dan Howard commended Pontelli for his tenacity and dedication.

“Getting any NSF grant is an achievement,” Howard said. “Workforce development is very important and I see this as a great opportunity for NMSU students.”

A computer science professor and department head in the College of Arts and Sciences, Pontelli is partnering with Satish Ranade, electrical and computer engineering department head, and other colleagues in disciplines across the university to study the development and use of smart grids. Like solar panels, smart grids allow consumers to be producers of energy as well as users. They utilize digital data and communications technology to predict patterns and operate automatically – thus promoting sustainability. 

“Smart grids represent the future of the electrical generation and distribution infrastructure, and present a number of challenges that the research community is trying to address,” Pontelli said, adding that he hopes to create a broad culture of smart grids at NMSU. “Smart grids try to make a directional relationship between power plants and customers by predicting when customers need electricity. If they had that information, production would be more efficient.”

“We want NMSU to become known as a hub of knowledge and we realized if we want to make a difference, we had to have an epicenter of research and training in smart grids. We have a great amount of talent at NMSU that can contribute to advancing the state-of-the-art in smart grid technologies.”

The Interdisciplinary Center of Research Excellence in Design of Intelligent Technologies for Smart Grids (iCREDITS) brings together a coalition of experts in electrical engineering, computer sciences, mathematics, management and education.

Pontelli and Ranade will act as co-directors of the iCREDITS Center, with a faculty steering committee consisting of Sukumar Brahma, electrical engineering; Jay Misra, computer science; William Yeoh, computer science, Huiping Cao, computer science; Son Tran, computer science; and Susan Brown, director of the NMSU STEM outreach center.

The center will focus its efforts on energy, communication, coordination and monitoring. One of its core goals is to increase the number of trained scientists and engineers in smart grid technologies. The staff is in the process of establishing an undergraduate minor and a master’s of science in smart grid technologies. 

The College of Engineering is researching how to best manage, control and protect electricity grids.

“This technology allows you to use what you have smarter,” Ranade explained. “It allows you to design things in a smarter way, and the ultimate promise is whether or not customers wants to do something with the information, it would be nice to know that when they’re using electricity at a premium time and the cost is high.”

Ranade added that in the last six months, companies, including electric co-ops, have already begun to express interest in the research.

The center will also focus on education of K-12 students, including recruitment, training and retention of female and Hispanic students. Brown said the STEM Outreach Center already extends to thousands of students annually and its programs will incorporate this research and create excitement about smart grid technologies.

Pontelli pointed out that it is also imperative to keep those students in Las Cruces and NMSU. 

“We’re ambitious,” he said. “I think this has a lot of potential and could create new job opportunities in the state.”

The team is also creating partnerships at the local, national and international level. 

One of the benefits of smart grids is a decrease in prices, as researchers create a market place that currently doesn’t exist. The U.S. Army, for example, has already begun to develop smart grid prototypes in new military installations.

“They want to be as self sufficient as possible,” said Pontelli, who already has years of experience in intelligent systems. This, however, is his first endeavor in smart grid technology. He hopes NMSU will become an innovator in the smart grid industry and the first institution in the Southwest to offer training programs and a graduate degree track.

“We’re very excited about this grant,” he said. “There are a lot of statistics that show the demand for people with that kind of expertise is very high and going to explode in the next few years. It’s going to be a very marketable skill and we want to help meet that demand with our programs.”

To learn more about the research center, visit

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