A guest post from Megan Milam about Kiwi Elegance

Megan Milam took my class as a first-year student and won the low-carbon meal competition – by riding her bike to get sushi if I remember correctly.  Megan has continued to work with me throughout her time at Clemson, which has included some pretty amazing work co-ops. Her most recent adventure took her to New Zealand, where she found elegance that I’ll let her describe.

Hi folks!  My name is Megan, and I am beginning my Senior year in electrical engineering.  For the past three months, I abandoned my Clemson summer for a New Zealand winter.  I journeyed down to the land of the Kiwis to work for Transpower, the system operator of New Zealand’s power grid.  I had an unbelievable experience learning about all the unique challenges a small island country faces.  The New Zealand grid is a system where every megawatt of electricity counts.  Seriously.  During my stint in the control room, we received an alarm at 4 AM about an abnormal stress on the system.  The source? One of the ski resorts had turned on their snow machines.  In the US, the system wouldn’t have even noticed.

An offending snowmaking machine - small margins for error lead to elegance values (photo courtesy of Alan Lam)
An offending snowmaking machine – small margins for error lead to elegance values (photo courtesy of Alan Lam)

Due to my history of research with Leidy, I immediately realized the potential impact elegant problem-solving could have on grid operations.  New Zealand is an island geographically and grid-wise.  Over 60% of its energy comes from renewable sources, and it cannot afford waste.

Anyway, apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking about elegance. Transpower’s new CEO, Allison Andrew, recently published the company’s redefined values, and I think she has an appreciation for elegance.  The values are: “The power of us; We work with care; and We do clever simply.”  I think there is a slight language barrier between Kiwi and American English, which allows me to claim  “clever simply” is Kiwi for  “elegance.”

Allison highlighted an example of simple cleverness in her recent newsletter.  Around NZ$40 million is allocated to painting transmission towers.  Most of the painting service providers are small family businesses without formal qualifications, so Transpower has organized the first industry workshop for tower painters.  Hopefully, the program will foster collaboration, innovation, and optimization.  The workshop aims to give the painters a platform for voicing feedback about ways Transpower can make their jobs easier and more efficient.

As the Kiwis say: It’s “sweet as” to see a concept from the academic world be embraced and implemented in industry.