First online power engineering grad aims high

By Tina Hilding, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture

Alexander-AndersonPULLMAN, Wash. – The first graduate of Washington State University’s online professional master’s degree program in electric power engineering is launching an effort to bring light, power and entrepreneurial opportunities to residents of Jiwaka Province, Papua New Guinea.

Alexander Anderson – who graduated Saturday, Dec. 12, after completing the degree in three semesters – has also started a company and filed two patent applications for airborne generators.

He’s 19 years old.

Tech skills, management, communications

WSU started the first online professional master’s degree program in electrical power engineering in 2014.

Industry leaders are clamoring for engineers with both technical skills to meet the needs of the smart electric power grid and professional expertise in areas such as management and communications. The degree is a relatively new type in science and math fields to address this challenge.

Anderson took all the courses from his North Bend, Wash., home.

“I can attend lectures and turn in homework anywhere, including from the top of a mountain overlooking the lake – the world’s most scenic study place,’’ he said.

Computerized lab simulations

He did lab work in his family’s home workshop, where he built and tested his airborne generators and energy augmenter and is now designing an unmanned hybrid-electric aircraft.

Most of the online program’s labs were computerized simulations, Anderson said. The classes also provided students with access to sophisticated industry programs used by power grid operators and designers.

“For ‘don’t-try-this-at-home’ experiments such as insulation flashover and power line faults, our professors kept us safe by providing videos, recordings and first-hand reports,’’ he said.

“From power systems analysis to smart grid cybersecurity to high voltage electromagnetics, every course was something that I really wanted to know and understand,’’ he said.

Pursuing doctorate, research

As for what he’ll do next, Anderson is developing economic models for creating microgrids and micro-utilities in third world countries where power grids are unreliable or don’t exist, starting with Papua New Guinea. He became involved in the public utility model after receiving a research grant from the American Public Power Association.

He will get some industry experience while also starting doctoral studies. His interests include renewable and clean energy, operation of micro-utilities and microgrids; and power electronics for hybrid-electric propulsion.