Research

Research Vision and Mission

My research focuses on power system optimization and control, grid integration of distributed energy resources (DERs) from technical and economic aspects, including renewable energy integration, and power markets and power system economics. I conduct applied research on utility business models and distributed optimal electricity market design algorithms that are required to catalyze investment in distributed generation systems by blending variable renewable energy (VRE) and flexible natural gas options in order to hasten the transition to a low carbon economy. I’d like to employ new economic thinking to evaluate the stringency and design of energy and environmental policies on power and utilities using dynamic and multi-regional econometric models, including investigating technical challenges of grid integration of DERs, understanding how VRE market participation will transform the wholesale electricity markets in the U.S., and applying game-theoretical approaches to define the “right” equilibrium number and structure of DER aggregators, improve system flexibility and enable unprecedented innovation in climate change mitigation.

 

Research Fields

 

Energy Systems Engineering & Economics

Power System Economics
Microgrids & the Transition to Distributed Energy
Energy System Modeling
Buildings Energy Efficiency
Computational Science and Modeling
Energy Policy and Analysis

Utilities of the Future

Energy Systems Integration
Grid Modernization
Natural Gas and Shale Energy
Solar Photovoltaics
Concentrating Solar Power
Urban Energy and Sustainability

Infrastructure Investment & Finance

Deep Decarbonization & Energy Finance
Integrated Energy Solutions
Operations Research
International Climate Policy
Energy Materials and Science
Mobility and Transportation Systems
 

Research Results

 

Market Participation of Variable Renewable Energy (VRE) Technologies: The Role of Flexible Natural Gas As A Facilitator for Integrating High Levels of VRE into Electric Power Systems

Increasing share of power generation from solar and wind generation technologies often referred to as variable renewable energy (VRE) poses significant complications to the design, operation, business model, and regulation of electric power systems. Key among these challenges is the negative impacts of increasing levels of grid variability and uncertainty introduced by VRE expansion on grid performance. My Ph.D. dissertation research details insights into the implications of VRE expansion and provides options to reduce and manage generation variability and uncertainty. Using statistical regression analysis I assessed if increased use of flexible generators, such as modern gas turbines and combined cycles, results in reduced VRE capacity, and if growth of these flexible electricity generation systems is correlated with increased non-fossil renewable fuels demand. System Generalized Method of Moments (System GMM) estimation of the dynamic relationship was performed on the indicators in the econometric model for the ten states with the fastest growth in solar generation capacity in the U.S. (e.g., California, North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey, Utah, Massachusetts, Georgia, Texas, and New York) to analyze the effect of natural gas on renewable energy diffusion and the ratio of fossil fuels increase for the period 2001-2016 to policy driven solar demand. I work with my dissertation committee (Prof. John Byrne, William Latham III, J. Mark Wathen, and Steven Cohen of Columbia University’s Earth Institute) to identify major drivers of change in electric power systems, including growth in distributed energy generation systems such as intermittent renewable electricity and gas-fired distributed generation; flat to declining electricity demand growth; aging electricity infrastructure and investment gaps; proliferation of affordable information and communications technologies (e.g., advanced meters or interval meters), increasing innovations in data and system optimization; and greater customer engagement. In this ongoing electric power sector transformation, natural gas and fast-flexing renewable resources (mostly solar and wind energy) complement each other in several sectors of the economy. We explore a plausible distributed utility framework that is tailored for major distributed energy resources (DERs) development that has emerged in New York called Reforming the Energy Vision. This framework provides a conceptual base with which to imagine the utility of the future as well as a practical solution to study the potential and future of DERs in other states.

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Utilities of the Future: Energy Economics, Electricity Market Design, and Technological Innovations

Electric utilities are changing. A powerful confluence of architectural, technological, and socio-economic forces is transforming the U.S. electricity market. These trends and developments are placing tremendous pressure on utilities triggering changes in electricity production, transmission and consumption. These pressures include the potential for a dramatic increase in the amount of renewable energy, burgeoning environmental regulation, aging infrastructure, changing fuel and generation economics, growing cyber security demands and, reduced or flat load growth. To address these challenges, utilities have to balance between deploying capital at an accelerated rate while simultaneously being deprived of customer load growth—their engine of earnings. Increased democratized choice over energy usage, for instance, is empowering consumers to take key actions such as peak shaving, flexible loading, and installation of grid automation and intelligence solutions. My research with CEEP team and collaborators reveals that the benefits of these programs is repurposed Utility 2.0 concepts: the distributed grid, innovations in electric market design, real-time automated monitoring and verification, deployment of microgrids, increased uptake of ‘smart meters and smarter’ grids, and investment in data analytics in order to incentivize efficient market design and flexibility. Our focus on solar cities strategy in major U.S., European and Asian cities gives us a unique perspective to examine the role of infrastructure network, revenue models, customer interface, business model resilience, organizational logic and mandate, risk management, and value proposition in improving communication with customers and operational boundary of utilities in the new utility business model regime. 

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Polycentric Climate Change Governance and International Climate Policy

Establishing a sustainable energy future can justifiably be considered the next frontier in global sustainable development under the agenda laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Paris Agreement which seeks to hold global average temperature increase to “well below 2°C” above preindustrial levels inserts additional urgency into this agenda. To realize the commitments outlined in the agreement, implementation of innovative sustainable business models capable of producing strong mitigation and adaptation outcomes is required ‘on the ground’ and needs to be available for subsequent diffusion across different countries, contexts and domains. My research looks into how polycentric climate change governance is being applied through an investigation of sustainable business model innovation. Multilaterally, international environmental governance continues to exhibit elements of complexity, fragmentation, lack of coordination as well as redundancy. In more critical terms, lack of policy integration between environmental regimes remains a critical area of concern of international environmental governance.

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Economic Imperative of Energy Efficiency, Energy Engineering Systems and Resiliency

Demand-side management (DSM) programs in the U.S. have been expansionary in scope, scale and structure. This expansion can be traced to the U.S. dependence on foreign imported oil which peaked in 1970s, with its attenuated threats on national security. Hitherto, a vigorous debate over the efficacy of DSM programs has also emerged. At one end this debate are DSM advocates who see significant potential of investments in energy efficiency that can be obtained at low and even negative costs. At the other end of the debate are economists who question the “proverbial DSM free lunch.” DSM opponents argue that if these programs are cost effective as they are often claimed then why are they under appreciated by firms and consumers? They point to imperfect market information, and not factoring in the full costs of negative externalities in energy prices, as the reason why to paraphrase Amory Lovins, we have chosen the “hard paths” over the “soft paths.” So why aren’t we promoting the soft path? My research investigates two energy efficiency gap perspectives that have emerged and their hidden assumptions i.e., (i) technological-oriented perspective that emphasize engineering-economic calculations, and (ii) market-oriented perspective fronted by economists who look at the issues from a market failure and social welfare point of view.  I work with CEEP researchers and collaborators to study “uncertainty” in energy efficiency measurement. I also work with this team to test whether automated uncertainty management could perhaps overcome barriers such as lack of appetite for energy efficiency investments, low motivation for new entrants to offer energy efficiency finance and increased financing costs (to overly compensate for the unknowns). We need to accurately measure energy savings at the granular level in real-time in order to increase investor confidence and customer trust.

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Climate Proofing Electricity Infrastructure

Climate change poses significant threats to the electricity sector, through policy and through impact, and these impacts are projected to grow in the coming decades. At the same time, utilities are under significant pressure to develop sustainable and cost-effective adaptation strategies to respond to current and future climate risks. My research at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Policy (SIPA) and at the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP) at the University of Delaware investigated adaptation strategies in which deployment of smart grid technologies accompanied by hardening of electricity infrastructures take the lead in formulating climate resilience policy. Designing solutions that integrate a smart grid policy framework is especially interspersing to me as it is vital to addressing observed climate trends and future climate projections. A collaborative process for disseminating data and knowledge of climate destabilization on the energy sector, with utilities, utility regulators, and state and federal governments, is also critical to the assessment process. Incorporating the impacts of climate change in future planning and operational designs of the electrify sector is also essential, because cost-effective and sustainable adaptation strategies depend on an informed impact assessment and cooperation among key stakeholders. 

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Sustainability Management

The Paris Agreement on climate change shifted decisions on management of energy and material resources locally, empowering metropolitan regions and cities as new hubs of sustainable urban transformation. Equally, as part of the post-2015 United Nation sustainable development agenda, governments committed to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” by 2030. In this polycentric regime, cities have become critical innovation hubs for implementing policy, investment, and sustainability decisions because of their sheer size and complexity. My research at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Policy (SIPA) and at the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP) at the University of Delaware explores how polycentric frameworks that use people-centric and common indicator approaches can inform urban sustainability performance and planning. The benefit of common indicator approach is its stakeholder-driven approach, consensus-based process, and focus on identifying gaps, prioritizing next steps and catalyzing local action. Social equity, economic progress, and environmental integrity are important goals of urban sustainability.

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