Engineering alumna receives patent for a second energy-saving invention

Melissa Peskin’s inventions help utility companies keep prices and environmental impact low.

Peskin earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007 and is a consulting engineer with Dominion Voltage Inc., a subsidiary of Dominion Resources. She has worked on two patented technologies that help utilities conserve energy safely without compromising power quality for customers.

“Both of these patents use the new smart meters as sensors to ensure power quality for customers,” said Peskin. Smart meters record energy consumption in short intervals and communicate that information back to the utility.

In May, Peskin and Philip Powell, director of grid innovations at Dominion, received a software patent for an analysis method to predict areas where a utility may need to improve facilities to ensure sufficient voltage when a circuit’s source voltage is reduced. This process is used in tandem with their 2010 patent covering a method of conserving energy by slightly reducing voltage.

Peskin’s background is in electric distribution planning, which uses computer models and field data to analyze power flow. It was an unknown in these models that led to this new patent.

“The facilities between service transformers and customer meters are often not included in the model, so using smart meter data was a way to get insight into the least-documented part of the electric distribution system,” she said. “In the process of playing detective with unusual voltage patterns, I developed methods to identify likely causes of anomalies, which helps planning engineers and field personnel address them.”

According to Peskin, the result is a more efficient system, and a monthly benefit to consumers.

VCU Engineering got me ready to enter the engineering workforce right after graduation.

“Almost all of the energy savings go directly to lowering customers’ bills,” she said.

Peskin credits many aspects of the VCU Engineering culture and curriculum with helping prepare her for success at Dominion.

“I started at Dominion as an intern while attending VCU. The team-based projects from my VCU Engineering classes were a great experience to prepare me for the small but fast-paced team I work on at Dominion,” she said. “From the great professors to the collaborative environment to the internship requirement and senior design experience, VCU Engineering got me ready to enter the engineering workforce right after graduation.”