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AGL and undergraduates partner for new perspective

31 July 2018
Could you live off-grid? Our students investigate.
Six undergraduate student projects explored what our electricity grid might look like in the future and what the lifestyle and wider social implications will be for the choices we make.

A speaker at this year’s Innovation Week Gala Dinner provides a sneak preview of her reflections on AGL’s recent partnership with the University.

Alice Lang, who leads work on scenario planning and strategy at AGL discusses how undergraduate students tackled the issue of what going off-grid may mean for Australians in a variety of circumstances.

The undergraduate students took part in the exercise as one of the new interdisciplinary projects offered as part of the University’s new undergraduate curriculum launched this year.

Given consumers can now be electricity producers the students considered the technical and economic feasibility of going completely ‘off grid’. The project looked at what our electricity grid might look like a decade from now and what the lifestyle and wider social implications will be for the choices we make. 

We saw how the interaction of students from a range of disciplines benefitted their overall approach and created different strengths and emphases in each group. Which is how modern workplaces should function ideally.
Alice Lang, AGL's lead on scenario planning and strategy

“We’re really keen to look at all the issues around energy and get ahead of the game for both consumers and the environment. The best way to do this is to understand what motivates the variety of choices people will make about their energy consumption.

It makes sense for us to demonstrate our expertise in, and engagement with, future energy requirements – for business and household customers. Part of that is considering how to make access to those new energy systems equitable,” said Alice Lang.

Over 28 students from a wide range of disciplines, including engineering, business, architecture, law and commerce, were involved. Students focused on the needs of groups such as low-income, remote or regional households.

“We saw how the interaction of students from a range of disciplines benefitted their overall approach and created different strengths and emphases in each group. Which is how modern workplaces should function ideally.

For example, a group dominated by humanities students created a particularly effective interview and analysis approach to why people from low socio-economic background do or don’t engage with energy providers,” said Ms Lang.

AGL was great to partner with on this project and helped the students with really hands-on, practical workplace experience as well as applying their research and skills to a real problem.
Associate Professor Maryanne Large

Associate Professor Maryanne Large from the Sydney Nano Institute and a leader of innovation and commercialisation for the Faculty of Science was the project supervisor. She welcomes the addition to the undergraduate curriculum and advocates for the importance of industry experience and internships “I love pure research, but while doing my undergraduate, postgraduate and post-doc work, I found it very frustrating that my applied research was never actually applied.

“AGL was great to partner with on this project and helped the students with really hands-on, practical workplace experience as well as applying their research and skills to a real problem,” said Associate Professor Large.

So, what does the future hold? Ms Lang and AGL think that the partnership is a beneficial one with potential to expand. “We’d love to continue this partnership with the University and I’d encourage other industries to get involved. We will be thinking up a new issue for the partnership to engage on. It goes beyond having a relationship with future graduates – it means AGL and the students learn about each other’s ways of thinking and framing questions in a way that we believe is valuable to both.

No less importantly it gives students the chance to acquire new skills. I was struck by a student thanking me for the chance to run a conference call – something they’d never done and is a standard business skill,” she said.

Lecture theatre with two screens displaying "complexity", female speaker, students seated, viewed from the back of the room

 

“What industries do I think would benefit from this approach? Well energy obviously! But discussions around waste, water, education and supply chains. I think ethical fashion is a fascinating area and there’s a lot happening in agriculture relating to some big themes like climate change and the ethics of food distribution,” she concluded.

The University is working with 30 leading business, government and community organisations to offer real-world projects. Our partners include Accenture, Airbnb, Allianz, ANZ Bank, AGL, Art Gallery of NSW, Bain & Company, Career Seekers, Data 61 | CSIRO, CommBank, City Recital Hall, DXC Technology, JWT, NSW Farmer’s Association, PwC, Public Service Commission, Westpac, Westmead, WPP

Students work in interdisciplinary groups in collaboration with the industry partner and an academic lead. They work together to find solutions to the problems with an academic approach but present their projects to the industry partner at the end of the semester as a group.

Innovation Week celebrates the research, discoveries and inventions of our academics and students.

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