Six ECE faculty involved in Siebel Energy Institute's inaugural grants

ECE News

Rick Kubetz, Engineering at Illinois

Story Highlights

  • Five Engineering at Illinois research groups, which include six ECE ILLINOIS faculty members, have had proposals included in the inaugural grants from the Siebel Energy Institute (SEI).
  • The groups are among 24 worldwide engineering and computing teams chosen for funding. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of only eight research institutions chosen to be part of the worldwide consortium.
  • The winning research proposals from the institute's member universities will accelerate the development of algorithms and machine learning to improve the performance of modern energy systems.

 Five Engineering at Illinois research groups, which include six ECE ILLINOIS faculty members, have had proposals included in the inaugural grants from the Siebel Energy Institute (SEI).

The groups are among 24 worldwide engineering and computing teams chosen for funding. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of eight research institutions chosen to be part of the worldwide consortium.

The ECE faculty members involved include Professors Ravishankar K Iyer, Thomas J Overbye, Peter W Sauer, Philip T Krein, William H Sanders, and Associate Professor Alejandro Dominguez-Garcia

 “We created the Siebel Energy Institute to stimulate the best minds in engineering and computer science to work collaboratively on the science of smart energy,” said SEI Chairman Thomas M. Siebel.

Thomas M. Siebel
Thomas M. Siebel
“Our goal is to advance innovations in data analytics and machine learning to improve the safety, cybersecurity, reliability, efficiency, and environmental integrity of the advanced smart grid.”

SEI marked its official launch Aug. 4 with the announcement of 24 research grants totaling about $1 million. The winning research proposals from the institute’s member universities will accelerate the development of algorithms and machine learning to improve the performance of modern energy systems.

Specifically, smart-connected devices across today’s energy system collectively generate massive amounts of information. Highly sophisticated statistical algorithms are necessary to integrate and correlate the data, create data-driven statistical models with predictive power, and extract value from this otherwise incomprehensible stream of information.

“The mission of the Siebel Energy Institute is to dramatically accelerate primary research to advance the science of machine learning and analytics as it relates to energy, oil and gas, and power systems,” Siebel said. “All research that is supported by the Siebel Energy Institute will be freely available in the public domain through the Non-Exclusive Royalty Free (NERF) license protocol used by consortium member universities. “

University of Illinois’ projects funded in this inaugural grant include:

Virtualizing Grid Management and Control: A Case for Resilient Software Defined Networking (SDN)

Ravishankar K. Iyer
Ravishankar K. Iyer
Iyer, who is also affiliated with the Coordinated Science Laboratory (CSL), is leading this research, along with CSL’s Zbigniew Kalbarczyk and Robin Sommer of UC Berkeley.

“In this proposed project, we aim to develop new approaches to leverage the dynamic configurability of SDN to enhance the resilience of energy delivery systems and grids to malicious attacks and enhance the resilience of SDN itself under the smart grid context,” they wrote. “The unique aspect of this effort will be the resiliency validation testbed that integrates a power system simulator and an SDN-based SCADA network to allow assessment of resiliency of energy delivery. Investigating SDN in the context of energy delivery does not only contribute to SDN research but it brings a new direction in cyber physical system research.”

Their work will also open up new opportunities for grants, as well as graduate and undergraduate engagement in research.

Load Model Parameter Estimation Using Field Measurement Data for Voltage Optimization Applications in Distribution Systems

Thomas J. Overbye
Thomas J. Overbye
Overbye, who is also affiliated with the Information Trust Institute, will explore what he calls the “technical groundwork” for continuing to develop control technologies for data associated with the smart grid’s real-time information.

“By developing prototype algorithms using simulated data to study the dependencies of the distribution system loads on number of different factors like voltage, temperature, and season, this research aims at addressing the long standing challenge of developing accurate modeling of loads in the system, which are a major source of uncertainty,” Overbye wrote in his proposal. “Developing tools to model loads by using the steady state advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) data will provide an efficient and cost-effective method of investigating different energy conservation programs.”

Overbye is excited about the opportunity.

“The ECE ILLINOIS power and energy group has a long track record of doing innovative electric power systems research, development and technology transfer,” Overbye wrote. “We are quite excited about being able to partner with the Siebel Energy Institute on this project considering distribution system energy analytics.”

A Measurement-Based Optimal Power Flow Approach to Voltage Control in Power Distribution Systems

Peter W. Sauer
Peter W. Sauer
Dominguez‐Garcia and Sauer will work to develop a framework for voltage regulation in power distribution networks with deep penetrations of distributed energy resources.

“Voltage violations in power distribution networks are traditionally handled by automatically-controlled tap-changing under load (TCUL) transformers, set voltage regulators (SVR), and manually-controlled fixed/switched capacitors,” they wrote in their proposal. “However, existing equipment is not inherently designed to handle the variability introduced by DERs, 

Peter W. Sauer with Thomas Siebel
Peter W. Sauer with Thomas Siebel
and the lifetime of these components (for example, the switches  and  tap  changers)  could  be  dramatically  reduced  because of the  increased  number of operations that they may undergo.” 

This work will allow for a massive penetration of DERs in power distribution networks, and will help resolve a major technical issue utilities face as DER use increases.

Alejandro  Dominguez-Garcia
Alejandro Dominguez-Garcia

Characterizing the Performance and Cost-Effectiveness of Energy and Water Efficiency Measures in Buildings

Philip T. Krein
Philip T. Krein
Krein will work with Ashlynn Stillwell, an assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, to characterize how water and energy are connected resources, especially when it comes to efficiency in buidlings.

“The goal of this research is to characterize the performance and cost-effectiveness of different efficiency measures in buildings, using data for both residential and academic/research building scales,” they wrote in their proposal. “We will develop models of different building efficiency measures to predict the impacts of different investments. The outcome of this research will be cost curves of energy/water efficiency, representing suitable measures for furthering sustainability in the built environment.”

Their work will help quantify the water and energy savings potential resulting from specific efficiency measures.

“This research provides solutions to the challenge of sustainability in the built environment,” they wrote. “The research intends to determine, in cost-constrained environments, what trade-offs provide the best cost-performance results for coupled water and energy savings.”

Design and evaluation of methods to detect electricity theft in Advanced Metering Infrastructure

William H. Sanders
William H. Sanders
Sanders will work with graduate student Varun Badrinath Krishna and CSL’s Gabriel Weaver to explore the issue of electricity theft, a billion-dollar problem utilities around the world face.

“Current measures are ineffective against sophisticated theft attacks that compromise the integrity of smart meter communications,” they wrote. “Our goal is to detect and mitigate electricity theft by identifying anomalous consumption patterns reported to utility data centers.”

The cost of electricity theft is often borne by consumers, and they believe their research in this area will help them find ways to collaborate with other SEI consortium members in order to pursue large government grants.

The inaugural 24 teams received either $50,000 or $25,000 seed grants. They’ll use the funding to develop research proposals related to advancing the science of machine learning to respond to electrical outages and cybersecurity attacks, managing increasingly complex load factors such as electric vehicle charging, and integrating renewable energy sources onto the power grid, and optimizing the power value chain.

The researchers will focus on how to apply advanced analytics to improve energy efficiency, grid reliability, and customer engagement.

The Institute’s Executive Committee, which includes representatives of all consortium member institutions, selected the recipients from a field of nearly 60 submissions. Using the Siebel Energy Institute grant awards, the research teams will develop larger research proposals and grant submissions to government entities and foundations within a leveraged funding model designed to attract $100 to $200 million in funded research during the next five years.

Other member of the SEI consortium include: Carnegie Mellon University, École Polytechnique, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Politecnico di Torino, Princeton University, University of California at Berkeley, and University of Tokyo.

The Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation established the Institute with a $10 million grant. The Institute is supported by an Industry Advisory Board that initially includes Pacific Gas & Electric, Honeywell, C3 Energy, and other leading energy companies and industry influencers, who have partnered with the Institute to foster active collaboration with the private sector.

Thomas Siebel is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he received a bachelor of arts in history, an MBA, and a master’s degree in computer science. A leading technology entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder of Siebel Systems, he currently serves as the chairman of the Board at First Virtual Group.

The Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation—a nonprofit, public benefit corporation—was established as a private foundation in 1996. Engaging as a strategic philanthropy, it support projects and organizations that work to improve the quality of life, environment, and education of its community members. The Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science is the home for the Department of Computer Science at Illinois, and each year, five CS graduate students are selected as Siebel Scholars.

Siebel Scholars Program Expanded

The Siebel Energy Institute also announced its partnership with the Siebel Scholars Foundation in expanding the Siebel Scholars program to recognize and engage outstanding leaders in the field of energy science at its consortium member universities. Annually, these eight institutions will each select a top-ranking graduate student—based upon academic excellence and leadership in energy science—to participate in the Siebel Scholars program. Each Siebel Scholar will receive a $35,000 award for his or her final year of graduate studies. These students will join an ever-growing, lifelong community of more than 1,000 past and present Siebel Scholars that includes their peers from leading graduate schools of business, computer science, and bioengineering.

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