Xiaochuan Luo of ISO New England: 2021 Energy Central Innovation Champion

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Audra Drazga's picture
Vice President of The Power Industry Network, Energy Central

I am the VP of the Energy Central Power Industry Network.  In this role, I help to connect professionals in the power industry through the development and management of topic-specific community...

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  • Apr 27, 2021

This item is part of the Leaders In Innovation - April 2021 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

In early February, Energy Central dispatched our second annual call for nominations for power professionals leading the way in Innovation. We asked our community to nominate leaders who they thought were charging the path for rapid evolution across the sector today-- explicitly looking for those who carry the necessary attitudes to adapt to change while embracing and encouraging new ideas. 

The response was overwhelming, making it challenging for the Energy Central Community Team and our committee of industry thought leaders-- selected from among our Energy Central Network of Experts-- to narrow the list of nominees to the final six Champions of Innovation. 

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I am happy to announce that Xiaochuan Luo, Manager at ISO New England, was chosen as one of our final six. Xiaochuan was nominated for the innovation he's shepherded along in the cloud computing area of the power industry, including the sector's first cloud-based computational environment for transmission planning and operations simulations.  

Please help us celebrate Xiaochuan's success by reading some of the insights garnered from an exclusive Innovation Champion Interview between him and Matt Chester, Energy Central's Community Manager. I would also love it if you congratulate him by leaving a message in the comments section at the bottom of this article, or even feel free to share a general question or comment for him on these important topics.

Congratulations Xiaochuan!


Xiaochuan's utility sector background

I graduated from Texas A&M University in 2000 with a Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering, concentrating on power system reliability. Immediately after graduation, I joined the System Planning department at ISO New England (ISO-NE), and was mainly involved in generation interconnection study and transmission expansion planning. Since 2005, I have been with the Advanced Technologies Solution (ATS) department at the ISO, responsible for the technology strategy, smart grid technology, research and development of advanced solutions to different challenging problems to improve the reliability and efficiency of grid planning and operations.  


Why the focus on cloud computing as Innovation?

The advantages of cloud computing for power systems can be elaborated from three major aspects – scalable resources, advanced data-driven algorithm and tools, and resilient infrastructure.

First, cloud computing offers flexible access to scalable and cost-effective storage, compute and networking resources. The data generated by modern power system have an explosive growth in the past ten years due to new engineering technologies such as Phasor Measurement Unit (PMU), Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), smart meters and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The modeling complexity and high-fidelity simulations in power system economic and reliability assessment also need high performance computing to significantly improve the computational efficiency. Virtually the cloud provides “unlimited” resources in storage, compute and networking with on-demand easy access to meet such demands in the power industry.      

Second, cloud computing unlocks a great deal of new solution frameworks and advanced algorithms and tools through Artificial Intelligence (AI). This includes data ingestion, data transformation, data visualization, and data-driven methods such as machine learning and deep learning. Utilities can use these cloud services to quickly develop online predictive models and power system control algorithms that were traditionally difficult from model-based methods due to lack of accurate model parameters. We can focus on the business logics while let the cloud services do the heavy lifting.

Third, cloud offers resilient and robust infrastructure. Power system entities, especially the grid operators at both transmission and distribution sides, need a resilient IT infrastructure with redundancy to  support operational continuity after infrastructure failure, system blackouts, or  other extreme events like hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and tsunamis. On the other hand, cloud offers a rich and sophisticated set of building blocks for forming a resilient and fault-tolerant infrastructure and disaster recovery strategy.  


The Innovation process at ISO New England

Our group, Advanced Technology Solutions, is an internal R&D group at ISO-NE; therefore, all of our work is driven by the practical needs of the ISO. Our typical work can be put into two categories: one is to develop advanced algorithms and tools to short-term problems facing planning, operations, IT, and electricity market design; another is to develop long-term technology strategy by looking at the future challenges that we will be facing in the next five to ten years. The technology strategy will then guide our R&D in developing and implementing new technologies and solutions. For example, we have developed ISO-NE Control Center Technology Strategy in 2014 and updated it twice in 2017 and 2020. Another example is our technology roadmap for synchrophasor development.


Upcoming utility sector challenges to track

One significant challenges for grid operations today is that extreme weather events are rising in frequency, intensity, geographic scope and duration. Extreme weather can significantly affect the availability and output of renewable sources, the load consumption, the natural gas pipeline constraints with limited fuel to natural gas-based generation, and the outage of transmission infrastructure. These failures are common mode events, which could be disruptive and very challenging for grid operators. To account for these extreme weather events and their impacts, the industry needs sophisticated risk assessment techniques in both planning and operations. We have been using probabilistic modeling in resource adequacy planning for long time; however, the correlated impact of weather-related common mode events are not really captured. We have seen the resource adequacy problems from recent events in California in 2020 and Texas in 2021. As we move the timeline from planning to operations, our today’s standard and criteria in operations are all deterministic based. It will take significant culture change to shift from deterministic reliability-based operation to risk-based resiliency operation, and develop innovative technologies in risk assessment in both operations planning and real time operations.  


Xiaochuan's vision of Innovation for the grid of tomorrow

Today the cloud-based solution in utilities are mostly for non-critical, low-impact workload.  As far as I know, there is no Bulk Electric System (BES) Reliability Operating Services deployed on the cloud, which are subject to the security and compliance requirements of NERC Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Reliability Standards. 

In February 2020, FERC issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) to seek comments on the potential benefits and risks associated with the use of virtualization and cloud computing services in association with BES operations, as well as comments on whether barriers exist within the NERC CIP Standards that may limit the voluntary adoption and innovation in these areas. In December 2020, FERC directed NERC to submit an informational filing that evaluates possible modifications to the CIP Standards to facilitate the voluntary use of cloud computing to perform BES operations by the end of 2021.

I believe the next level of innovation is needed in the utility industry to move mission-critical workload to the cloud. To achieve that leap, we need not only the technology innovation, but also the vision and support from the regulatory bodies such as FERC and NERC in terms of reliability standard development and compliance process.


Energy Central thanks Xiaochuan Luo for his irreplaceable contributions to our great industry and for truly embodying what it is to be an Innovation Champion. We encourage leaders to share a note of thanks, ask a question, or just your two cents in the comments below. To see the other Energy Central Innovation Champions, see the rest of the Special Issue on Innovation in the Electric Power Industry.

PJ Davis's picture
PJ Davis on Apr 27, 2021

Congrats Xiaochuan! Well done!

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Apr 27, 2021

Congratulations Xiaochuan.

Rachael Lewis's picture
Rachael Lewis on May 4, 2021

Congratulations Innovation Champ Xiaochuan for your work on cloud computing!

Kimberly McKenzie-Klemm's picture
Kimberly McKenzie-Klemm on May 12, 2021

I especially enjoy the conversation on AI for operations with hardware intelligent enough to "learn" and respond to new data on its own. The cloud is a perfect start to independent "spider hubs" with legs connected throughout the web of the Smart Grid. Congratulations for your award and amazing work!


Kimberly A. McKenzie-Klemm


xiaochuan luo's picture
xiaochuan luo on May 13, 2021

Thank you for the comments, Kimberly! I like your analogy of “spider hubs with legs connected throughout the web of the Smart Grid”. The power industry has been deploying grid measurement devices such as Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs) in the transmission system and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) network in the distribution system on a large scale. Machine Learning has been an increasingly powerful tool to use these data to detect power grid faults, anticipate and prevent device and grid failure, etc.  Cloud can be used to not only ingest, process and store these measurement data, but also help us to build, train and deploy high-quality machine leaning models quickly. One great example is Amazon SageMaker, which provides the most comprehensive machine learning service.

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