Chiang’s team excels in ARPA-E Grid Optimization challenge

Professor Hsiao-Dong Chiang is leading a research and development team through a series of energy grid optimization challenges set up by ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy. So far, they are ranked #2.

ARPA-E is the U.S. government agency tasked with funding research into advanced energy technologies, and its Grid Optimization (GO) Competition is aimed at developing software management solutions to address challenging power grid problems. The ultimate goal is to create a more reliable, resilient and secure American electricity grid. 

Optimizing the nation’s power grid could save consumers $50 billion each year, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Participants in the GO Competition are challenged with finding a way to deliver an adequate supply of energy to customers at the lowest possible production cost by managing how the power is distributed throughout the grid.

“There’s been a lot of research in this area over the past 50 years,” said Chiang, “but few of these efforts produced practical applications or went into production.” Two energy management companies founded by Chiang, Global Optimal Technology (GOT) and Bigwood Systems, Inc. (BSI), both based in Ithaca, NY, have been focused on these kinds of problems for more than two decades. 

“GOT is an optimization technology company while BSI is focused on power grid monitoring, assessment, control, and optimization,” Chiang said. Researchers from both companies make up the team competing in the ARPA-E challenges. The algorithms they are developing could have a major impact on the future of energy delivery. The companies already hold 25 patents in the field and serve customers from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the largest private electric utility in the world.

“We approach the ARPA-E GO Competition with a deep understanding of the problem domain and industry practice,” Chiang said. “The problem demands an innovative solution methodology and sophisticated programming technology.”

The GO Competition began with Challenge 1, which tasked the teams with finding solutions to a security constrained optimal power flow (SCOPF) problem. Challenge 2 expands upon that SCOPF problem by adding new variables including transmission line switching, adjustable transformer tap ratios, phase shifting transformers, switchable shunts, fast-start unit commitment, and price-responsive demand with ramping constraints.

When the official results of GO Competition Challenge II were announced, Chiang’s team “GOT-BSI-OPF” was ranked #2 overall and is expected to receive an award of $420K. The next event in the competition, Challenge 2: Monarch of the Mountain, is set to begin in January. This event eliminates the hardware and time limits set in the original challenge to encourage competitors to simply find the best solutions possible.

“It's challenging, but it's a very rewarding,” Chiang said, reflecting on his team’s work in this competition, as well as in the global marketplace. “When you see people using your software on a 24/7 basis as a critically important tool, it’s very, very rewarding.”

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