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Eilyan Bitar joins ECE faculty as Assistant Professor

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Eilyan Bitar is working to transform the way our electrical grid is operated to achieve deep integration of renewable energy resources. Traditionally, the grid is operated such that generation is tailored to match uncertain consumer demand on a second-by-second basis. At issue is the fact that renewable resources like wind and solar are highly dependent on the weather. They are hard to predict, highly intermittent, and largely uncontrollable.

“These energy resources are inherently variable,” Bitar says. “How can we efficiently accommodate large amounts without throwing the grid out of balance? This is the basic challenge we aim to address.”

One possible solution resides with the consumers themselves. According to Bitar, “there is a tremendous amount of consumption flexibility in the demand side that until today remains largely untapped.” Perhaps residential consumers can be coaxed into changing their consumption patterns, for example, to accommodate variability in supply. Simply making power cheaper during off peak hours, though, won’t do the trick – the monetary incentives are too small. “Even if the average home owner behaves optimally, their savings will at best amount to five percent on their bills. So on a $100 bill, the user would save at most $5.”

By designing novel incentive mechanisms and real-time control algorithms to simultaneously manage millions of end-use devices in the distribution system, Bitar aims to transform the role of consumers from passive recipients of energy to active participants that willingly serve the systemic needs of the electrical grid. 

Essentially, the demand side will look not unlike a conventional dispatchable generator, capable of absorbing variability in renewable supply. Although he’s a native Californian and as such is used to more temperate weather, Bitar didn’t hesitate to accept Cornell’s offer. The School of Electrical and Computer Engineering has a deep and rich history of research in electrical power systems and information science, he says.

“It’s a truly scholarly place, with a collegial and brilliant faculty,” he says. “I see a genuine opportunity for stimulating discussion and collaboration, which will hopefully give birth to exciting and innovative research projects.”

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