Jay Taneja, an Assistant Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been funded as a subawardee in a $680,265 grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) for a proposal entitled "A Pilot Study of Novel Low-Cost Technologies for Measuring Electricity Reliability in Urban Ghana." Taneja is collaborating with the Development Impact Lab (DIL) and the Energy Institute at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, to conduct a pilot deployment of a suite of DIL-developed technologies for monitoring and evaluating the performance and reliability of the electric power distribution grid in Ghana.
The research team says that data from this suite of technologies could produce “a generational improvement in spatial and temporal resolution of the power reliability information available to ratepayers, utilities, regulators, and researchers” in low- and middle-income countries. The MCC proposal describes a pilot demonstration and evaluation of a system for monitoring the location, duration, and scope of power outages in near real-time.
As the proposal states, “We hypothesize that our high-resolution measurements of the frequency and duration of power outages - data which are not currently gathered - are critical in understanding and improving grid reliability and are necessary to study deeper economic and socio-economic questions about how unreliable electricity supplies impact economic development and growth.”
Taneja will work with Santiago Correa Cardona, a Ph.D. student in his Systems Towards Infrastructure Monitoring and Analytics (STIMA) Lab, in the wide-ranging pilot program. Taneja has spent a decade studying issues in the energy sector in developed and developing countries. From 2013 to 2016, he started and built an energy research group at IBM Research - Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. During this period, he focused on improving electricity reliability and access in sub-Saharan Africa, working closely with the Kenya Power and Lighting Company, the national utility of Kenya. He has experience designing and building sensor networks, modeling at the scale of electricity grids, and working with research, policy, and operational stakeholders.
According to the proposal, the MCC has identified a need for assistance in gathering and analyzing data on the reliability of electricity service in Ghana. Since 2012, persistent power failures in Ghana have negatively impacted its economy and given rise to the term “Dumsor Dumsor” – meaning “lights off-on” in the local Akan language. The Government of Ghana and the MCC signed the $535-million Ghana II Power Compact with the aim of permanently ending these routine Dumsor Dumsor power outages in Ghana.
The researchers will seek to study the impact of changes in electricity reliability on both the customers of the distribution utilities and economic activity in both North and South Ghana. “By measuring and evaluating the success of this compact, and recognizing the limitations of real-time monitoring posed by traditional on-grid meters,” as the researchers explain, “MCC seeks to pilot a new technology system which could capture power outages in real-time. This system could help answer questions about when and where outages occur, how long they last, how many customers are affected, and whether infrastructure-improvement investments result in improved power availability and reliability.”
The proposal adds that the technology suite employed includes new low-cost, fixed-point sensors developed by the research team along with a novel scalable method of automatically crowd-sourcing grid reliability measurements using Android smartphones. Utilizing its suite of sensing methodologies in conjunction with GSM cellular networks, the research enables a uniquely scalable grid monitoring system.
This technology suite consists of multiple approaches to monitoring the grid, including GridWatch, an Android app installed on the everyday-use smartphone of participants, which automatically senses power outages and power restorations by using a combination of on-phone sensors and cloud services. Another related technology is PlugWatch, consisting of a plug-load power monitoring sensor coupled with a phone running a Gateway application, which connects to this sensor and shepherds all of its measurement data to the research servers over GSM. This technology serves as ground truth for the outage measurements from the GridWatch mobile application, improving the application's ability to accurately identify outages. Additionally, TransformerWatch is a system under development that will be deployed to monitor the state of a power transformer.
This suite of measurement technologies will provide data streams that, in combination with data from the utility, can be used to enhance repair and maintenance processes and improve infrastructure planning, providing lower cost and more reliable electricity delivery.
Taneja earned his B.S. in ECE at The Ohio State University and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Computer Science at Cal Berkeley. He runs the STIMA Lab, which uses computing tools to measure and improve societal infrastructure systems in the developed and developing world, including energy and building systems, but also transportation, water, and sanitation systems. (November 2017)