Xiang Huo (right) and Samantha Eddy (left)

University of Utah electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. candidate Xiang Huo and teammate Samantha Eddy, an architectural studies senior and member of the Navajo Nation (Diné Bikéyah), earned second place — and $10,000 — in the inaugural Wilkes Center Student Innovation Prize. Their project, “Decarbonize the Diné: A Prefabricated Solar-Driven Communal Solution with Passive Survivability,” proposes a holistic, modularized solution to decarbonize the tribal land.

The University of Utah Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy established the Student Innovation Prize competition earlier this year, inviting students from majors across the U to submit their most creative and innovative ideas for tackling climate change. Students are evaluated on their proposal’s impact, scalability, and feasibility, as well as other potential benefits to people and ecosystems beyond the reduction of carbon emissions.

Huo currently works with electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Mingxi Liu in the University of Utah Energy Control & Optimization Lab (ECO). His research is dedicated to advancing engineering system applications with high social impact and public benefit. Broadly, his work aims to design new algorithms to address scalability and privacy in large-scale cooperative multi-agent optimizations.

Huo is experienced in developing tailored microgrid solutions for rural residents, and he is currently engaged in the project “Electrifying and Broad banding the Comb Ridge/El Capitan Community in Kayenta Chapter of the Navajo Nation,” funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, in addition to his academic endeavors. His work and experience in developing tailored microgrid systems was foundational for the team’s submitted proposal.

“My work in this competition focused on how to employ solar power to power this community,” says Huo. “Our proposal is holistic and involves working with local small businesses in the community to boost the local economy all while decarbonizing the land.”

“Samantha has a unique insight in to indigenous architecture design, and she is dedicated to put the idea into reality,” adds Huo.

 Specific modules outlined in their solution include prefabricated housing solutions, solar-battery-based distributed microgrid solutions for electricity supply, agriculture solutions for food resources, and human capacity building programs for self-sustainment.


During the summer of 2022, Huo was a research intern for the Grid Interactive Controls Group at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory working on the decentralized control of grid-interactive buildings. He was the final winner of the 2022 JUMP into STEM competition with the challenge “Resilience for All in the Wake of Disaster.” Huo plans to continue pursuing his Ph.D. with department along with his work on decarbonizing and decentralizing the future power grid.

Huo’s teammate, Samantha Eddy, is minoring in American Indian studies in addition to her architectural studies major. During the summer of 2022, Eddy was a research intern for the Communities and Urban Science Group at the National Renewable Energy Lab. She is the current Student Design Ambassador for Nááts’íilid Initiative, a non-profit that addresses the housing and infrastructure disparities of Dinétah.

Learn more about Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty research topics and discover ways to get involved in undergraduate research.