UTA researcher leading team in Department of Energy Grid Optimization Competition

Chasing a prize


Credit: UT Arlington

Nothing spurs innovation in the quest for solutions to challenging problems like competition, and a University of Texas at Arlington researcher is leading a high-powered team in a Department of Energy competition focused on greatly improving the speed and efficiency of energy delivery through the nation’s power grid.

Ramtin Madani, an assistant professor in the Electrical Engineering Department, is leading a team in the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, Grid Optimization Competition, with a share of $4 million in prize money at stake for the top 10 teams. This effort is in collaboration with Professor Alper Atamturk from the University of California-Berkeley and Professor Ross Baldick from University of Texas at Austin. Their team is one of the only 18 teams, and the only one from Texas, to receive $250,000 in funding for the competition, which is open to any qualified competitor, not just those who are funded.

“This is a departure from traditional routes to research funding which is motivated by other success stories such as the DARPA Prize Challenges,” Madani said. “The competition highlights the importance of computational sciences in energy efficiency and sustainability, so the advancements made in the framework of the competition could have lasting benefits and encourage people from other disciplines to work on energy-related problems.”

The competition is a series of challenges aimed at hastening the development and evaluation of software solutions for the future of the electric grid, including optimal use of current and emerging technologies, management of dynamic grid operations and management of emerging distributed energy resources such as wind turbines, biomass generators and rooftop solar units.

The first challenge is to develop solutions to the electric power sector’s security-constrained optimal power flow problem, which entails determining what generator settings that best enable power to be routed reliably and efficiently to customers across a complex grid reliably and efficiently. Teams will create algorithms that will be tested on complex, realistic power system models and will be scored on how well their algorithm performs relative to other teams’ algorithms.

Atamturk, a professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, is an expert in optimization theory with real-world applications in power systems. Baldick is with UT Austin’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and holder of the Leland Barclay Fellow in Engineering. His research interests include optimization for energy systems. Madani will work with both to develop and implement algorithms for the GO competition.

Madani’s participation in the competition highlights UTA’s leadership in energy research and is an example of data-driven discovery and sustainable urban communities, two themes of the University’s Strategic Plan 2020, said Duane Dimos, vice president for research.

“Dr. Madani and his colleagues have set themselves apart among grid optimization experts by earning funding to participate in the Grid Optimization Competition. UTA prizes innovative, transformative research, and the long-term potential of discoveries that come out of this competition is very exciting,” Dimos said.


Other teams in the competition include representatives from Argonne, Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, Georgia Tech, UC Berkeley, Pennsylvania State University and several private-sector companies.

ARPA-E advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment. Projects funded by ARPA-E have the potential to greatly impact U.S. economic prosperity, national security, and environmental well-being.

UTA’s Department of Electrical Engineering provides student opportunities to broaden and intensify knowledge in a number of areas of electrical engineering. The program was ranked No. 85 in U.S. News and World Report’s 2019 graduate rankings. OnlineMasters.com placed UTA No. 28 on its list of the Best Online Master in Electrical Engineering Programs for 2019. It was one of only two Texas universities in the top 40. In 2018, UTA and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia Division signed a formal Education Partnership Agreement to enhance research and education through interactions with NSWCPD personnel and the sharing of scientific, engineering and technological assets. The department is also well-known for its research in energy storage and delivery, microgrids and in photonics in the areas of sensors, healthcare and secure communications.

— written by Jeremy Agor

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