Power engineers convene for fifth-annual PECI
Jonathan Damery, ECE ILLINOIS
- Power engineers from academia and industry convened at the I Hotel and Conference Center for the fifth student-organized IEEE Power and Engineering Conference at Illinois.
- The attendees represented six countries and about 30 institutions, including Illinois, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin, and Texas A&M.
- The two-day event included three keynote speakers, almost 40 peer-reviewed research presentations, a workshop, and several social events.
Last week, graduate students and faculty specializing in power engineering, industry leaders and undergraduates, all gathered in the meeting halls at the I Hotel and Conference Center located on the southern edge of the Illinois campus. The draw was the fifth-annual IEEE Power and Energy Conference at Illinois (PECI),
“You hear a lot of new ideas at the conference,” said graduate student Max Liu, a co-director of the student-organized event. “Research is all about ideas, and sometimes ... you need to hear new topics to open up a new route.”
The attendees comprised representatives from six countries and about 30 institutions, including Illinois, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin, and Texas A&M, who were all assembled to exchange ideas, network, and hear about work happening elsewhere in the research community.
The event opened with a keynote presentation by Oleg Wasynczuk, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University. The lecture focused on localized power systems known as microgrids, which could be used on a university campus, for example, to connect solar panels and other types of renewable energy production with the points of consumption: the classrooms and offices and research labs.
“One of the people on our committee was really excited because he’s been working on this problem in his research, and he saw the slides and realized, ‘This is what I needed to know,’” said graduate student Stanton Cady, the other co-director, referring to one of the 13 graduate students on the conference committee. “That is exactly what we hoped for.”
After the keynote, the technical sessions began, with presentations scheduled throughout the event. Topics ranged from the automation of commercial power systems software to transformerless integrated power converters, from the modeling and analysis of gas turbines to hybrid microgrid dynamics and stability.
While, in past years, only one best paper award was presented, this year, a runner-up award was also given.
“We did really well with corporate support, and we wanted to give back to the students,” Cady said.
The two lead supporters were John Deere and Halliburton, with additional funding from Phillips 66, Texas Instruments, PowerWorld Corporation (co-founded by Professor Thomas J. Overbye), Intel, and SolarBridge Technologies (co-founded by Professor Philip Krein).
With their support, the conference also provided travel funding for select students, in addition to the registration-fee waivers that were provided in previous years.
“That’s something I think we really want to push,” Cady said. “If we get more money, we want to be able to make sure students can come. I mean, it’s all student-run, so we want to be able to help our fellow students.”
After lunch on the first day, the attendees paused from the technical sessions for a second keynote address, this time by Manoj Shah, a senior principal engineer at the GE Global Research Center in upstate New York. Shah first joined the company in 1981, and his talk focused on his experiences during the past 30 years of power engineering, while also providing advice and projections regarding the future of the industry.
The second day of the conference opened with a keynote address by Donald Morrow, a senior vice president at Quanta Technology,
This year, the IEEE Industry Applications Society joined as one of the technical co-sponsors of the conference, along with IEEE's Power and Energy Society and Power Electronics Society, which have provided sponsorship in the past. IEEE IAS sent representatives from as far away as Hungary, Colombia, and Germany.
Other highlights included a workshop on presentations, geared mostly for graduate and undergraduate students, which culminated with a lighthearted game of PowerPoint karaoke. Each contestant was given eight PowerPoint slides containing technical topics, unrelated photos, and Internet memes, which auto-advanced after 25 seconds. The contestants, then, had to implement the do’s and don’ts of presenting, which had been discussed earlier, while simultaneously constructing a coherent narrative from the power point slides.
“I think it was a good opportunity for people,” Cady said. “It was entertaining. It wasn’t just a boring presentation about presentations.”
The attendees were also treated to live music on Friday evening. “We’ve tried in the past to do other social things, but it’s really hard, because everything requires going somewhere,” Cady said. Instead, Wagon Fire, a local gypsy jazz ensemble, came to perform, and as the melodies of clarinet and violin danced around the room, students and industry leaders could relax and chat.
“You get to know people at a more personal level,” Liu said of the social gathering. “In the future, if you see them ... you feel like they’re your friend now; they’re not just someone you met in business.”
With five years of PECI concluded, now it’s time to start planning for number six.
“In the next week or two, we are going to have a debriefing meeting,” Cady said of the conference committee. And that wrap-up meeting, he anticipated, will become a brainstorming session for the next.