Business Matters

Mason MBA project leads to relationship with DC Water

water plant
Photo by Evan Cantwell

By Damian Cristodero

Maureen Holman, chief of sustainability at DC Water, is eager to work again with students from George Mason University, and hopes George Mason and DC Water broaden a budding partnership.

Holman collaborated with four Mason Executive MBA students whose capstone project explained how DC Water could use a microgrid to ensure a constant flow of power to its Blue Plains facility.

The project was so well-received by DC Water executives it was presented to the Board of Directors’ Environmental Quality and Sewer Services Committee. Holman said the response was favorable.

“To bring in a bit of outside perspective on the redundancies from a business perspective was very valuable,” she said. “I hope this is the start of a continuing relationship with Mason, specifically relating to critical infrastructure.”

Though relatively rare at water utilities, microgrids are gaining popularity with municipalities and businesses dependent on outside power sources because they can operate independently. These electricity distribution systems ensure operation during power failures by distributing energy generated on-site.

The students in Mason’s critical infrastructure and management track who developed the plan are not business novices. Luke Robertson is an engineer in the U.S. Department of Defense. Kim Schubin is chief operating officer of a defense contracting firm. Robert Cross works in cybersecurity, Andrew Rovnak in photo imaging.

Each entered the Executive MBA Program to hone their business and leadership skills.

“A wonderful program,” Schubin said. “I would do it again.”

DC Water already produces energy by treating and burning some of the sludge that comes into Blue Plains. The utility also has discussed installing solar panels. But as Cross explained, “Those are just power-generating sources unless you can distribute them back to the facility. The microgrid provides that capability. Otherwise, you would have to wire in each individual component to disperse that power.”

“They’ve spurred further thinking on this one, “ Mark Troutman, director for Mason’s Center for Infrastructure Protection and Homeland Security in the School of Business, said of his students. “It’s going to be really useful for DC Water.”