Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sustaining Our Electric Power Supply Chains and ISO New England

High impact experiences are essential to a college education and, on April 10, 2015, we had the pleasure of visiting ISO - New England to learn about how this organization manages the reliability of electric power for all of New England along with the pricing of it and planning for the future.

I had been to ISO - NE several years back and had wanted to bring another group of students to this awesome facility in Holyoke, Massachusetts but the last time we had scheduled a tour, Superstorm Sandy hit, and it was very difficult to reschedule.

This time there were several faculty that joined our group, which is featured  in the photo above, and which also consisted of several students from our great UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter as well as several students from my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class.

I have been fascinated by electric power supply chains since one of my research "bibles" is the classical book, "Studies in the Economics of Transportation," written by Beckmann, McGuire, and Winsten and in the book it is stated in the chapter on "Unsolved Problems"  at the bottom of page 108 that: "The unsolved problems concern the application of this model (they were speaking of what we now call the elastic demand user-optimized transportation network model or the traffic network equilibrium model) to particular cases. A one-commodity network would be of special interest. In particular, the problem of generation and distribution of electric energy in a network comes to mind. The task of verifying the assumptions or modifying the model might be rewarding, but will call for considerable technical knowledge of electric engineering."

With co-authors, I wrote a series of papers on electric power supply chains, in which we also transformed the electric power supply chains into transportation network equilibrium problems on an abstract network or supernetwork, resolving this unsolved problem of over half a century.

One of our papers, which used data from ISO - NE for one of the hottest months in our region  ever - July 2006, is: An Integrated Electric Power Supply Chain and Fuel Market Network Framework: Theoretical Modeling with Empirical Analysis for New England, Zugang Liu and Anna Nagurney, Naval Research Logistics 56: (2009) pp 600-624. In this paper we utilized the transformation noted earlier in this post and had actually solved the "unsolved problem" in the paper:
Dynamic Electric Power Supply Chains and Transportation Networks: An Evolutionary Variational Inequality Formulation, Anna Nagurney, Zugang Liu, Monica-Gabriela Cojocaru, and Patrizia Daniele, Transportation Research E 43: (2007) pp 624-646.

ISO New England provided us with an outstanding set of presentations on the state-of-the-art of electric power generation and distribution with new challenges of decentralization and balancing supply and demand with renewables such as solar and wind energy.  We even got to hear how the R&D group is working on robust optimization in the context of electric power planning.

We then had the shades, which had been drawn in the conference room, pulled back and we got to see the incredible control room with a huge screen depicting the New England power grid in real time! 
The below photo of the control room is courtesy of the ISO NE website.

They also informed us of the ISO to Go! app, available for both I-phone and Android, which can be positively addicting. It provides info on wholesale prices (which can even be negative) as well as the fuel mix (wind, coal, natural gas, nuclear,  etc.). Last winter, due to a capacity crisis in terms of natural gas distribution in NE, and the frigid temperatures, the fuel mix relied heavily on fossil-based fuels for electric power generation and we know from our high fuel bills that this winter was also tough financially. The wholesale price last winter was well over $50 per Megawatt hour and now it is about $14 but the price varies and is updated several times each hour.

Thanks to ISO New England for such an outstanding educational experience for the students and faculty that you welcomed last Friday!