Annette Hacker, director,
Office: (515) 294-4777
James McCalley, Electrical and Computer Engineering, (515) 294-4844
Sarah Ryan, Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, (515) 294-4347
Steve Sapp, Sociology, (515) 294-1403
Leigh Tesfatsion, Economics, (515) 294-0138
Mike Krapfl, News Service (515) 294-4917
Modeling a better energy system
AMES, Iowa -- America's energy is constantly moving, constantly bought and sold, constantly subject to human decisions, constantly vulnerable to storms and other disruptions.
Can that energy system be more efficient? Where can the infrastructure be improved? How can the system be safer for the environment? What happens when a hurricane disrupts production? And what about the people who work within the energy system? How do they make their decisions? What factors influence them? Are they willing to try new ideas to improve efficiencies?
Iowa State University researchers are building computer models to answer those questions. The project started in September and is supported by a three-year grant of $608,000 from the National Science Foundation.
James McCalley, an Iowa State professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been working on research related to the modeling project for about 2 years. He's building a computer model of the U.S. energy system that reflects the connections among the electric, coal, natural gas and hydroelectric energy subsystems. The model will include data about the system's production, capacity and transportation infrastructure. The study will also include data collected from parts of the energy system hit by Hurricane Katrina.
Other project researchers are studying the economic and sociological aspects of the energy system. And others are working out the challenges of modeling all the variables and uncertainty in such a complex system.
McCalley, who has worked for the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in San Francisco, said he's asked for years whether the country has found the best way to move its energy around. He said the answer always came back, "The market knows."
He's hoping such big-picture models will come up with a better answer.
He said the models should be able to predict energy prices and availability one to two years out. They should be able to search for weaknesses in the energy system. And they should be able to suggest better combinations of energy movements.
The modeling project also includes these researchers and their studies:
McCalley said he expects building and testing the models to take the next year to 18 months. Once the project's models are ready, the researchers plan to make them available to other researchers as a way to aid and encourage more study of the country's energy system.
But there's a lot of research to do before the models are ready.
"This is truly the most challenging project I've ever attempted," Tesfatsion said.
And when the modeling is done, McCalley is convinced it will have answers to a big question he's been asking about America's energy system: "Can anybody say we're doing it the best way?"
Iowa State University researchers are building computer models that will answer lots of questions about America's energy system. Can, for example, the system be more efficient? Where can the infrastructure be improved? And how do people working within the energy system make their decisions?
"Can anybody say we're doing it the best way?"
James McCalley, an Iowa State professor of electrical and computer engineering, asking about America's energy system.