Friday, November 13, 2015

Brilliant Lecture by Chief Technologist Dr. Eugene Litvinov of ISO New England

Today we had the honor and privilege of hosting Dr. Eugene Litvinov, who is the Chief Technologist at the Independent System Operator (ISO) New England. Dr. Litvinov spoke in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series, which is organized by the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter. The student chapter, some faculty, and I had the pleasure of touring ISO NE's facilities in Holyoke, MA  last spring and Dr. Litvinov was so fascinating that we were thrilled when he accepted our invitation to speak.

He attracted an audience from the Isenberg School of Management, the College of Engineering, and even folks from Physical Plant at UMass since we operate our own microgrid as well as other guests from the community. It was great to see so many PhD students and even MBA students in attendance on a Friday afternoon.

The title of his talk was "Challenges of the New Grid."

ISO NE ensures that the lights stay on in our region, that is, this organization ensures electric power reliability. It is also involved in wholesale trading as well as planning for electric power.

We began his visit with a delicious lunch at the University Club at UMass and were joined by Professor Erin Baker and two of her doctoral students. She is the PI on an NSF IGERT on wind energy. Also joining us was one of our PhD students from the Isenberg School.

The conversation at lunch was so interesting. We discussed issues of survivability, cybersecurity and the grid, renewable energy, internships, skillsets needed in this industry, and other topics and we made it to the seminar location jut in time.

The audience was eagerly awaiting Dr. Litvinov'a presentation.

I started the introductions and then our new Student Chapter President, Zana Cranmer, completed the welcome. We also noted that the student chapter last week at our INFORMS conference in Philadelphia had received the summa cum laude award from INFORMS. We had chocolate cake (to be eaten after the talk) and our award plaque displayed.
Dr. Litvinov mentioned how the grid consists of the eastern interconnection, the western interconnetcion, and that Texas is its own country.

He noted that ISO NE manages $11 billion in energy capacity a year, which is mind-boggling. Every second the monitoring of supply and demand of electricity takes place since electric power cannot be stored.

New challenges for our region include that a big percentage of the fuel is now natural gas and we don't have sufficient pipeline capacity to transport it (our region does not produce natural gas). This winter could be interesting, to say the least.

He noted that we now need different ways of controlling the system since it is much more decentralized than it has ever been. He spoke of offering customers different levels of reliabilty, which I found quite interesting.

He also noted that the transmission architecture is a mesh and the distribution architecture of the grid is radial. He emphasized the need for greater flexibility. I very much appreciated his emphasis on the importance of definitions whether they are for flexibility, reliability, survivability,  or even resilience. He spoke about risk-based optimization, which I thought was very cool, and noted robust optimization several times in his talk. I might add that Litvinov has collaborated with Dimitri Bertsimas of MIT Bertsimas spoke in our series a few years ago, as did his wife, Georgia Perakis, who had the same advisor at Brown University as I did (Stella Dafermos).  so I guess Bertsimas is my academic brother-in-law.

Dr. Litvinov  emphasized the importance of keeping the system in balance and to manage the uncertainty. I liked him saying that one needs to determine the largest set of uncertainty that can be handled without violating constraints and said that he has a paper on this, which I definitely want to read.

Dr. Litvinov also discussed that we are moving from coordinated control of the grid to cooperative control (hopefully) along with decentralized decision-making. He had visited Paris recently and viewed how electric power is managed there.
He  presented quite a few mathematical optimization models so it was great for the students to see how important mathematical programming and optimization are in this critical infrastructure sector.

His lecture was brilliant and so impressive.

The questions that followed demonstrated the interest of those who attended. There were questions on renewable energy, what his vision for the grid would be for 2030, and even cybersecurity (a growing group at ISO NE).

Dr. Litvinov stayed to answer more questions and was very generous with his time and, given his reponsibilities, we are truly grateful for his visit and his talk.
And then it was time to indulge in a piece of delicious cake from Whole Foods. What a great Friday afternoon and what a terrific day, which started with meetings in Computer Science this morning.