Alphabet Sees Power in Molten Salt, a New Moonshot

WSJ.com: WSJD - Technology

Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOGL 0.58% is pitching an idea to store power from renewable energy in tanks of molten salt and cold liquid, an example of the tech giant trying to marry its far-reaching ambitions with business demand. Alphabet's research lab, dubbed X, said Monday that it has developed plans to store electricity generated from solar panels or wind turbines as thermal energy in hot salt and cold liquids, such as antifreeze. The lab is seeking partners in the energy industry, including power-plant developers and utilities, to build a prototype to plug into the electrical grid. Whether the project, called Malta, ever comes to market depends as much on a sound business model as it does on science. Academics said the technology is likely years away from market, if it ever makes it.


Fast Stability Scanning for Future Grid Scenario Analysis

arXiv.org Machine Learning

Future grid scenario analysis requires a major departure from conventional power system planning, where only a handful of most critical conditions is typically analyzed. To capture the inter-seasonal variations in renewable generation of a future grid scenario necessitates the use of computationally intensive time-series analysis. In this paper, we propose a planning framework for fast stability scanning of future grid scenarios using a novel feature selection algorithm and a novel self-adaptive PSO-k-means clustering algorithm. To achieve the computational speed-up, the stability analysis is performed only on small number of representative cluster centroids instead of on the full set of operating conditions. As a case study, we perform small-signal stability and steady-state voltage stability scanning of a simplified model of the Australian National Electricity Market with significant penetration of renewable generation. The simulation results show the effectiveness of the proposed approach. Compared to an exhaustive time series scanning, the proposed framework reduced the computational burden up to ten times, with an acceptable level of accuracy.


Scalable Recommendation with Poisson Factorization

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

We develop a Bayesian Poisson matrix factorization model for forming recommendations from sparse user behavior data. These data are large user/item matrices where each user has provided feedback on only a small subset of items, either explicitly (e.g., through star ratings) or implicitly (e.g., through views or purchases). In contrast to traditional matrix factorization approaches, Poisson factorization implicitly models each user's limited attention to consume items. Moreover, because of the mathematical form of the Poisson likelihood, the model needs only to explicitly consider the observed entries in the matrix, leading to both scalable computation and good predictive performance. We develop a variational inference algorithm for approximate posterior inference that scales up to massive data sets. This is an efficient algorithm that iterates over the observed entries and adjusts an approximate posterior over the user/item representations. We apply our method to large real-world user data containing users rating movies, users listening to songs, and users reading scientific papers. In all these settings, Bayesian Poisson factorization outperforms state-of-the-art matrix factorization methods.


Energy and Uncertainty: Models and Algorithms for Complex Energy Systems

AI Magazine

The problem of controlling energy systems (generation, transmission, storage, investment) introduces a number of optimization problems which need to be solved in the presence of different types of uncertainty. We highlight several of these applications, using a simple energy storage problem as a case application. Using this setting, we describe a modeling framework based around five fundamental dimensions which is more natural than the standard canonical form widely used in the reinforcement learning community. The framework focuses on finding the best policy, where we identify four fundamental classes of policies consisting of policy function approximations (PFAs), cost function approximations (CFAs), policies based on value function approximations (VFAs), and lookahead policies. This organization unifies a number of competing strategies under a common umbrella.


Best-Response Planning of Thermostatically Controlled Loads under Power Constraints

AAAI Conferences

Renewable power sources such as wind and solar are inflexible in their energy production, which requires demand to rapidly follow supply in order to maintain energy balance. Promising controllable demands are air-conditioners and heat pumps which use electric energy to maintain a temperature at a setpoint. Such Thermostatically Controlled Loads (TCLs) have been shown to be able to follow a power curve using reactive control. In this paper we investigate the use of planning under uncertainty to pro-actively control an aggregation of TCLs to overcome temporary grid imbalance. We present a formal definition of the planning problem under consideration, which we model using the Multi-Agent Markov Decision Process (MMDP) framework. Since we are dealing with hundreds of agents, solving the resulting MMDPs directly is intractable. Instead, we propose to decompose the problem by decoupling the interactions through arbitrage. Decomposition of the problem means relaxing the joint power consumption constraint, which means that joining the plans together can cause overconsumption. Arbitrage acts as a conflict resolution mechanism during policy execution, using the future expected value of policies to determine which TCLs should receive the available energy. We experimentally compare several methods to plan with arbitrage, and conclude that a best response-like mechanism is a scalable approach that returns near-optimal solutions.