Using Big Data to Power an Energy Revolution


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Can big data improve how electricity is produced, delivered and consumed in the Northeastern United States?

University at Buffalo researchers think so, which explains their leadership role in a National Science Foundation effort that aims to find solutions to urgent societal problems through the examination of massive sets of raw data.

Announced Monday, the NSF plan centers on creating four Big Data Innovation Hubs. UB will work in the Northeast hub, a $1.25 million initiative led by Columbia University that includes a few dozen universities, as well as partners in industry, government and nonprofits.

“We are relying increasingly on a diverse energy supply that includes fossil fuels as well as renewables such as wind and solar power and equally complex distribution and usage systems. Our group will examine how to support discovery and use of data and information about these systems to manage them for optimum performance,” said Abani Patra, PhD, professor in UB's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who is leading UB's work in the innovation hub.

Massive datasets and novel computational techniques are changing how individuals and societies approach day-to-day tasks. Data analytics promises to deliver individually tailored treatment to patients, massively reduce energy use in buildings, and radically improve teaching methods in schools, among other advances.

The idea for a Big Data hub network came in 2012, after President Obama announced a $200 million National Big Data Research & Development Initiative to apply data analytics to education, environmental and biomedical research, and national security. The NSF, one of six federal agencies involved, proposed an add-on initiative that would divide the country into four “regional innovation hubs,” each harnessing experts in academia, industry, government, and the non-profit sector, to address problems too big for any one to take on alone.

The Northeast Hub will have six areas of focus: health, energy, cities and regions, finance, big data in education, and discovery science. A series of workshops over the next three years will give partners a chance to brainstorm and collaborate on projects that address high-priority needs in the region.

Patra, who will lead the energy portion of the innovation hub, also directs UB’s Computational and Data-Enabled Science and Engineering initiative, a new advanced degree and certificate program that is part of UB’s “E Fund” initiative, which supports programs that will have a high impact both inside and outside the university.

Additional UB researchers involved in the project include: Rositsa B. Dimova, PhD, research assistant professor in the departments of medicine and biostatistics, and Marianthi Markatou, PhD, associate chair of research and healthcare informatics and professor of biostatistics, both in the the School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Varun Chandola, assistant professor in department of computer science and engineering, Johannes Hachmann, assistant professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering, and Venkat Krovi, professor in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering; all in UB's School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Haimonti Dutta, PhD, assistant professor, and H. Raghav Rao, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor, both in the department of management science and systems in the School of Management.

Andrew H. Talal, MD, department of medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

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