Logo: University of Southern California

Smart Grid: Power, People and Information Technology

Agreement reached on framework that will enable USC, UCLA, JPL and City of Los Angeles to work together on an ambitious DoE-funded L.A. Department of Water and Power green energy project

June 03, 2010 —

After six months of intensive negotiation and planning, the Department of Energy-funded Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Smart Grid Project is now set to start turning green keys.

On June 1, the LADWP Board approved a  crucial agenda item: a  "Resolution approving the Smart Grid Demonstration Cooperative Project Agreement with National Aeronautics and Space Administration, University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), University of Southern California (USC), and the Smart Grid Regional Demonstration Project Intellectual Property Agreement with California Institute of Technology, UCLA, USC. The total cost will be approximately $43,000,000 and each agreement has a term of five years."

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(from left) USC Energy Institute Director Don Paul, Matt Lampe (LADWP), USC President-elect C.L. Max Nikias, John Chen (LADWP), Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos

An upbeat gathering of representatives of a diverse group of academic, private and government organizations came together in Tutor Hall the preceding Friday to celebrate their agreement on the terms of the far-reaching project, which will apply information technology to power production and distribution.

Dean Yannis C. Yortsos and USC President-elect Max C.L. Nikias joined USC Energy Institute Executive Director Don Paul and numerous USC faculty and staff, along with representatives from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, UCLA, JPL and the mayor’s office to toast the good news.

“Today we celebrate a project that will position Los Angeles as the nation’s clean tech capital,” said Nikias. “This is the start of a very important partnership.”

Yortsos noted that the Viterbi School’s Center for Energy Informatics, led by Viktor Prasanna, would be working with a wide range of other USC entities, including the USC Energy Institute, the Viterbi School, USC Transport Services, USC Facilities Management, the Annenberg School, the College and the Marshall School. To underline the scope of the outreach, Marshall School Dean James J. Ellis was on hand to join in the jubilation.

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Viterbi School Center for Energy Informatics Director Viktor Prasanna, left, with Rajit Gadh of UCLA

Prasanna, Charles Lee Powell Chair in Engineering and professor of Electrical Engineering will lead the USC component of the Demand Response program. His efforts will also integrate the EV and behavioral studies components to develop an integrated optimization framework for the overall project and interface the demonstration with the LADWP IT infrastructure.

The agreement got its start five months ago when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had announced U.S. Department of Energy funding for the Smart Grid project. The vision was to have three of the largest energy users in Southern California – USC, UCLA, and JPL — collaborate with the energy supplier to understand demand and user behavior and to devise methods to conserve energy while making the system secure.

“We are here today to celebrate the collaboration on building the next generation of the Smart Grid, and not just to build it, but to deploy it,” said John X. Chen, a USC alumnus who now serves as assistant general manager of the LADWP and who worked directly with Don Paul on bringing together the Smart Grid players.

Making USC one of the Smart Grid campuses was not easy, said Paul, who retired in June 2008 as Chief Technology Officer of Chevron Corporation. "I have been involved in many complex partnership developments and negotiations during my career in the energy industry," he said. "This been one of the most challenging -- and one of the most rewarding."

While the outline of the goals was clear in December, Paul said, creating a concrete framework and plan was the work of some 50 specialists from all the participants, including multiple levels of government, and the LADWP. It was a marathon task.

“We had meetings every day for months,” he said. “We had to figure out how to divvy up the work, how to decide who does what.”

But the good news: “Sometimes adversity builds better teams, especially when you reach the

Usc Team With John And Aditya
Viktor Prasanna, Julie Albright, Don Paul (all USC), John Chen (LADWP), Carol Fern (USC), Aditya Sharma (LADWP)
goal line,” Paul continued. “We built a level of partnership that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

“We did it,” said a smiling Chen.

Chen said that the new project can lead directly to other follow-ons – “we’re in the running for $120 million for a solar research center,” he said.

Dean Yortsos introduced project participants – which included Viterbi School partners and others from across the university’s departments and schools.

  • T.C. Cheng, Lloyd F. Hunt Chair in electrical power engineering and professor of electrical engineering will direct the USC component of the EV program.
  • Gordon Roesler and Cliff Neuman of the Viterbi School's Information Sciences Institute are leading a key component of the program: cyber-physical security.
  • Karthik Gomadam, a postdoctoral research associate in electrical engineering; will oversee the software architecture of the project.
  • Erica Watson-Curry from the Annenberg School will coordinate and integrate the communications aspects of the project.
  • Julie Albright of the USC Sociology Department will lead in social and behavioral studies.
  • Carol Fern, Director of Energy Services at Facilities Management Services who will be in charge of USC’s Smart Grid energy infrastructure and operations.
  • Mark Allen Bernstein is the managing director of the USC Energy Institute and a professor of the practice of political science here at USC.
  • Tracy Fullerton, Cinematic Arts, who will work on the development of an online energy literacy game
  • Michael Cody, Annenberg, who will examine beliefs and attitudes of "green" consumers
  • Margaret McLaughlin, who will look at consumer technology acceptance and the role of social networks in energy attitudes

Other non-USC participants at the gathering included Rajit Gadh, professor of engineering and applied science, and director of the UCLA Wireless Media Lab, Dean V. Wiberg, a program manager in JPL’s Innovative Programs division, and Cleantech policy analyst Alex Fay of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office.

More steps remain, including, crucially, approval by the city council, before the new ambitious plans can be implemented. But participants agreed putting in place completion of the collaboration framework -- and its adoption by the LADWP -- is a major milestone on the way to a greener power grid for Los Angeles.