Nearly $500K secured by Cal Poly Eng. Prof. granted to tackle grid challenges using adv. computing

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Driven by a mission to transform power grids, Cal Poly Assistant Professor Jason Poon has secured $496,000 in grant funding to develop innovative computer methods for managing power systems.

The award from the National Science Foundation is a collaborative grant that sends $267,000 to Cal Poly and $229,000 to the University of Minnesota for the three-year project, “Electronic Analog and Hybrid Computing for Power and Energy Systems.”

“Managing the grid has become much more complex in the last 10 to 20 years,” said Poon, who began teaching electrical engineering at Cal Poly in 2022. “And existing computing tools are limiting our ability to make the grid more sustainable, reliable and efficient.”

The evolution can be attributed to the rapid adoption of distributed energy resources, such as solar and wind, which can introduce rapid fluctuations in energy generation due to factors such as weather conditions, along with the increased adoption of electric vehicle (EV) charging that can contribute to higher electricity demand, especially during peak charging times.


Using these new energy sources and loads is crucial to achieve global sustainability targets, Poon said, but incorporating them into the grid poses challenges in planning, operation and monitoring.

The teams at Cal Poly and the University of Minnesota are aiming to evaluate the feasibility of radical new computing techniques that have the potential to be much faster and more capable than conventional computing tools used in grid applications, such as cloud-based servers or industrial-embedded processors.

“The development of these new computing techniques could enable faster, real-time decision-making, as well as support the adoption of advanced algorithms for control and prediction, including techniques based on artificial intelligence,” Poon said.

Poon hopes to enlist undergraduate and graduate students across Computer Engineering, Computer Science and Software Engineering and Electrical Engineering — the three departments under the umbrella of the newly launched Noyce School of Applied Computing.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities here to support the goals of the Noyce School, both in research and teaching, and I’m excited to collaborate with students and faculty across all three departments,” he said.

The project’s emphasis on sustainability likely will appeal to a wide swath of students across the College of Engineering.

“A lot of students and young people today are rightfully very passionate about sustainability and addressing climate change, and I hope this project can show them that having hard technical skills in engineering can provide them with the ability to make a meaningful impact on this space,” Poon said.

The computing tools developed through the project could have applications well beyond the electric grid.

“Computing — particularly real-time computing — is essential in a variety of applications, including transportation, manufacturing and consumer electronics,” Poon said. “What we’re developing could provide transformative benefits for all these areas.”

Source: “Cal Poly Electrical Engineering Professor Secures $496K Grant to Tackle Power Grid Challenges with Advanced Computing,” Dec. 6, 2023 Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) press release.

Above and corresponding, connected home-page-featured images: Jason Poon