Creating the Grid OS: A Computing Systems Approach to Energy Problems

CS294-49, Fall 2009
Professors David Culler and Randy Katz
M/W 4-5:30, 320 Soda Hall, 3 Units
Limited Enrollment By Instructors Consent


The world's electric grids are an engineering wonder of last century's physical age, each with a vast geographic reach, epitomized by a highly centralized, synchronized, and reliable distribution tree that allows electric power to be consumed without concern for its source. But rapidly changing energy demands, incorporation of non-dispatchable renewable sources, and the need to proactively manage load, have pushed this aging marvel to its limit. As the rise in greenhouse gases threatens civilization, it is time to examine how pervasive information can fundamentally change the nature of energy production, distribution and use. Taking guidance from the design principles of the dominant triumph of the cyber age, the Internet, how can we design an essentially more scalable, flexible and resilient electric power infrastructure - one that encourages efficient use, integrates local generation, and manages demand through omnipresent awareness of energy availability and use over time. The crucial insight is to integrate information exchange everywhere that power is transferred. 21st Century Energy Infrastructure is in reality a computing systems problem!

The purpose of this course will be to develop the design of a new kind of Energy Network, an information overlay on the energy distribution system in its various physical manifestations, e.g., machine rooms, buildings, neighborhoods, isolated generation islands and regional grids. Pervasive information exchange will enable a more efficient scalable energy system with improved resilience and quality of delivered power. This information overlay brings together (1) pervasive information about energy availability and use, (2) interactive load/supply negotiation protocols, (3) controllable loads and sources, and (4) logically "packetized" energy, buffered and forwarded over a physical energy network. Together these yield a system for agile, distributed, and integrated management of energy that can buffer energy on the path to reduce peak-to-average energy consumption, moderate infrastructure provisioning, and encourage power-limited design and operation. Analogous to a router, one can imagine as a building block an intelligent power switch that logically connect sources to loads by bundling information (bits) with energy (electrons) flows.

The first third of the course will be dedicated to getting students rapidly up to speed on modern energy systems architectures, primarily from a computing and information systems perspective. We make NO assumptions about the students' knowledge of energy systems--you need never have taken a course in electrical engineering! The middle third of the course will focus on a group design of the information overlay. The final third will shift to a project intensive mode, with the goal of developing prototype implementations for major components of the envisioned energy information and network architecture. This is a ground floor opportunity to get involved in a new and exciting research project that combines superb technical opportunities with the possibility of materially affecting people's lives - for the good!

Proposed Schedule:

Week 0. (W 8/26) Introduction, The Computer Science in the Energy Problem Week 1: (M 8/31, W 9/2) The Physical Layer Week 2: (W 9/9, M 9/14) The Device Layer Week 3: (W 9/16, M 9/28) Information Flows and Protocols Week 4: (M 9/21, W 9/23) Resource Allocation and Control Week 5 & 6: (W 9/30, M 10/5, W 10/7, M 10/12) System Architecture: Putting it all together Week 7-9: Architectural Design: Project meetings, Formulation, Thrust

Week 10-15: Prototype Implementation and Evaluation

Related Courses (in progress)

Potential Projects

Last Updated: 09 Sep 2009