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Cloud computing application could help create more resilient power grid


Allie Arp, CSL

For many people, ‘the cloud’ describes a misunderstood space where photos and documents are stored. To Information and Trust Institute (ITI) researchers, the cloud is the future of electric grids.

Illinois’ Hao Jan (Max) Liu and his team want to improve power system resiliency by utilizing the cloud’s computing capabilities, providing a new option for easy access to large scale computing resources over the internet. The research will offer an alternative solution
Hao Jan (Max) Liu
Hao Jan (Max) Liu
for big data analytics, heavy computational tasks, and secure cyber-physical interactions in power systems.

“Computational resources and communication abilities are traditionally the bottleneck in current technology,” said Liu, ITI research engineer and Siebel Scholar. “We hope to be pioneers in implementing this kind of cloud-based application.”

With the technology Liu’s team hopes to develop, a massive continental U.S. grid, for instance, could be separated into “islanded” microgrids if there was a natural disaster or if the grid was attacked. This islanding-by-design technology could have prevented the severity of the 2003 New York City blackout by stably distributing energy through many smaller grids, limiting the spread of the power outage. With current technology, managing this type of grid division would take a monumental amount of computational resources. If the grid were managed in the cloud, the possibilities would be limitless.

“When you put everything in the cloud you have an unprecedented opportunity for flexible computing resources and storages,” Liu said. “You only pay when you need it and the communication infrastructure will be more advanced because all of the IoT devices being used can talk to the cloud.”

There have been multiple news reports in recent years of the cloud being hacked and people’s personal information or content being stolen. Security is one of the main issues facing the team, made up of Peter Sauer, Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) professor; Alfonso Valdes, Principal Research Scientist; Ziping Wu, ITI research engineer; and Hyungjin Choi, ITI postdoctoral fellow, in addition to Liu. Keeping everything secure requires improved machine learning-based detection algorithms and enhanced communication security measures. 

“We have to consider the cybersecurity side of this too, because it will be a good example for future research and application,” Liu said.

The ITI team are not alone in believing this research is a novel idea worth exploring. The group was recently awarded the prestigious Siebel Energy Institute Seed Grant in the amount of $50,000. The funding will allow them to further develop their idea before writing a full proposal to a larger funder, such as the National Science Foundation or the Department of Energy early next year. The Siebel Energy Institute was founded by University of Illinois Computer Science alum Thomas Siebel.

“I would like to give a special thanks to all the contributors for this hard work and to Mr. Siebel for providing this great opportunity,” Liu said.