Ursa Major Powers Innovative Energy Solution of Award-Winning UCR Research Lab

By Astitva Chopra |

Since introducing the advanced cloud services of Google Cloud Platform (GCP) through the Ursa Major initiative, the ITS Research Computing team has been working with various UCR researchers to integrate GCP into their workflows and leverage it to achieve their research goals.

Previously, we introduced the Wang Bioinformatics Lab and shared how they’re using GCP for mass spectrometry. Principal Investigator Professor Mingxun Wang, PhD also revealed that having access to Ursa Major has enabled his team to get into Google Cloud’s Research Innovators program, which comes with $10,000 in GCP credits.

Continuing the exploration of Ursa Major’s impact on research computing at UCR, we turn the spotlight to a lab that leveraged GCP not only for academic research, but also for real-world applications.

UC Riverside-based Smart City Innovation Lab recently won the grand prize in the U.S. Department of Energy’s $1.1-million American-Made Digitizing Utilities Prize. Aside from demonstrating their innovative prowess, Smart City Innovation Lab’s victory also hints at the potential role that platforms like Ursa Major can play in bridging the gap between academic research and industry needs.

Smart City Innovation Lab: A Brief Overview

Smart City Innovation Laboratory focuses on utilizing machine learning and big data analytics to revolutionize Smart Grid technology. Their work encompasses a range of activities, including data-driven modeling, monitoring, and planning of power distribution systems. The lab has an impressive track record of publishing journal papers on these topics and presenting them at numerous conferences.

Smart City Innovation Lab is led by Dr. Nanpeng Yu, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UCR. He also serves as the Director of the Energy, Economics, and Environment Research Center. 

While the lab has historically relied on in-lab GPU/CPU servers for their computational needs, a unique competition presented them with challenges that required a different set of resources.

Taking on the Digitizing Utilities Prize as Electrify USA

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity launched the Digitizing Utilities Prize to spur innovation in the energy sector. The contest aimed to address the challenges posed by the massive data influx in the energy industry, focusing on data analytics, processing, quality assurance, storage, and deletion. 

Dr. Yu, along with researchers in his group, Dr. Wenyu Wang and Zuzhao Ye, joined the Digitizing Utilities Prize as Electrify USA. They advanced to Phase 2 of the competition and collaborated with a Fortune 250 utility company to identify their own digitization or data challenge and propose solutions.

Electrify USA developed an integrated and data-driven planning platform that predicts feeder-level electric vehicle (EV) adoption, forecasts charging profiles, and analyzes impacts on the distribution network.

Utilizing Ursa Major to Create Solutions for the Energy Industry

To complete their work for Phase 2 of the competition, Electrify USA needed a robust computing platform with stringent cybersecurity measures. This led them to choose Ursa Major, as GCP offers the data security, compliance, and performance that their work requires. 

Dr. Yu’s team used Ursa Major extensively. They utilized GPU resources to train the predictive models that could generate the trends for EV adoption and load modeling. They also leveraged the secure storage and CPU resources available to efficiently track the data and create the client-facing application for understanding the impact on the distribution system.

As a result, Electrify USA was able to develop a comprehensive solution consisting of three software modules: 

  1. EV Adoption Prediction - This data-driven algorithm predicts the rate of EV adoption. 
  2. Charging Load Prediction - Utilizing machine learning, this module predicts the charging load of EVs based on historical data. 
  3. Impact Assessment - This module combines the outputs of the first two to assess the impact on power distribution systems.

Their solution addressed critical challenges such as overloading, voltage quality deterioration, and distribution line overloading. With the progress they made and the strength of their proposed solution, Electrify USA bested their competitors and went on to win the Digitizing Utilities grand prize.

Discover the Suite of Services Offered by ITS Research Computing

Spurred on by the success achieved by the Wang Bioinformatics Lab and the Smart City Innovation Lab, ITS Research Computing is actively working on creating sustainable funding and allocation mechanisms to make Ursa Major more accessible to UCR researchers.

We are also continuously improving the broader portfolio of research computing services available to UCR researchers. To learn which services best meet your research project needs, schedule a one-on-one consultation with the ITS Research Computing team by filling out the consultation request form in the IT Service Portal. You can also email questions to research-computing@ucr.edu

Astitva Chopra is a Senior Research Computing Facilitator in the ITS Research Computing team. Prior to joining UC Riverside, he worked for ~10 years at Google and led the research computing solutions team for Google Cloud. At UCR, he supports the Digital Transformation efforts in research computing through Ursa Major. He can be reached at astitvac@ucr.edu.

Let us help you with your search