Professor Lavaei Wins NSF CAREER Award

Holly Evarts
March 28, 2014

Javad Lavaei, assistant professor of electrical engineering, has won a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for his research on electrical power networks. The five-year, $400,000 award, NSF’s preeminent recognition of exceptional junior faculty, will support his project, “High-Performance Optimization Methods for Power Systems.”

“I am thrilled to receive such an important acknowledgement,” Lavaei says. “This grant will help me move forward on developing efficient computational algorithms for the design, modernization, and operation of power networks.”

One of Lavaei’s main focuses is on developing optimization techniques that are specialized for smart grids—he is working on upgrading today’s power grid into tomorrow’s smart grid that can maintain a reliable and secure electricity infrastructure to meet future demand growth. He says it is essential to deploy a more robust control system for the electricity grid.

Lavaei has been working on solving hard nonconvex mathematical problems such as the 50-year optimal power flow problem. His research addresses control of the real-time operation of power networks given the uncertain and time-varying demands of their residential, industrial, and commercial consumers.

“The design, upgrade, and real-time operation of a power network are all contingent upon several optimization problems that are hard to solve due to two main reasons: the nonlinearity induced by the laws of physics, and the presence of integer variables,” he explains. The existing methods for solving energy-related optimization problems either formulate potentially conservative approximations or deploy general-purpose local-search algorithms to handle the non-convexities, which may incur tens of billions of dollars annually.

“The general intractability of power optimization problems has a direct impact in the practice of energy efficiency, and this is arguably one of the most fundamental issues that hold back power engineering,” he continues. The primary goal of his new project is to address this non-convexity issue by developing high-performance optimization techniques that can be applied to a broad set of nonlinear energy problems.

“I expect this project will have a significant impact on the power industry by revolutionizing their energy management systems, leading to significant and immediate benefits,” he adds. These benefits include reducing electricity costs through a cheaper way of dispatching and delivering power, decreasing the likelihood of power outages by optimizing the reliability and robustness of the grid, and reducing gas emissions by optimally utilizing the sustainable energy. Lavaei plans to conduct this research in collaboration with several partners in the industry, including New York Independent System Operator.

In September, Lavaei won Google’s Faculty Research Award for his power networks research. He intends to collaborate with the energy group at Google to design optimization algorithms for future electrical power networks. Lavaei, who joined the School in 2012, is an affiliated member of the Smart Cities Center at Columbia’s Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering.

Original article here.