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Taneja is Lead PI on Rockefeller Foundation Grant to Transform Electricity Systems in Developing Countries

Electrical and computer engineering professor Jay Taneja

Jay Taneja

Assistant Professor Jay Taneja of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department is the lead principal investigator for a $3.8-million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to support the collaborative work of researchers at UMass Amherst, Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Colorado School of Mines. The research team will use enhanced data modeling to help transform electricity systems in emerging economies.

See UMass News Office story: UMass Amherst Researchers Share in Grant from Rockefeller Foundation

“Better electricity consumption predictions enable clear-eyed, informed planning of future electricity systems,” said Taneja about the interdisciplinary research. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Better data help governments and international donors to better direct investments to expand electricity access and grow emerging economies.”

Taneja runs the Systems Toward Infrastructure Measurement and Analytics (STIMA) Laboratory in the ECE department. His research team studies smart electricity grids in sub-Saharan Africa, planning for electricity grids, and microgrid risk modeling, among other research.

The multi-institutional team will use the Rockefeller funding to launch the Electricity Growth and Use In Developing Economics (e-GUIDE) Initiative, an effort to apply data science to electricity demand prediction in energy poor emerging economies.

The Rockefeller Foundation has a dedicated focus on ending energy poverty and improving livelihoods by leveraging breakthroughs in data science and decentralized energy to both accelerate the pace of electrification and dramatically decrease the cost.

At UMass, the work will be led by STIMA, which additionally studies infrastructure in the developed and developing world, including energy and building systems, but also transportation, water, and sanitation systems. The laboratory uses embedded and mobile devices, data analytics, and computer vision techniques.

While there are a variety of advanced tools available in Europe and the United States to accurately estimate electricity demand, according to Taneja and his team, the tools and methodologies are still unavailable that are needed to discover the best-fit methods for expanding access to reliable, affordable power in emerging markets.

According to the UMass News Office release, “The e-GUIDE Initiative will partner with electricity service providers across Sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia to enhance the data available for planning and operating their systems, and enabling the rollout of integrated electrification strategies, especially in rural areas where unreliable demand prediction has hindered universal electrification efforts.”

The consortium that obtained the Rockefeller grant is developing an openly available application programming interface that will enable data and insights on electricity consumption growth to flow across borders and throughout the sector.

“The tool is powered by applying new machine learning techniques to geospatial data from satellites in conjunction with real electricity billing and consumption data from hundreds of thousands of emerging market commercial and residential customers,” said the UMass News Office article.

Taneja and his graduate student, June Lukuyu, recently collaborated with researchers at Duke University and Carnegie Mellon University to publish a long article on the Brookings Institution website about their study loosely related to the Rockefeller research, investigating the potential for “microgrids” to provide power to millions of people in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. (July 2019)