Javad Lavaei | Creating a Grid to Power Energy's Future

Javad Lavaei
Javad Lavaei
Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering

—Photo by Ryan Lee

Fossil fuels are being used heavily every day around the globe, from turning the key in a car’s ignition to kicking up the heat in your home. The world’s constant reliance on coal, oil, natural gas, and other non-renewable energy sources can lead to global warming and challenging economics, so engineers are continually seeking sustainable alternatives to generate, transport, and distribute power—in effect, modernizing the legacy power grid.

To this end, Javad Lavaei, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Columbia Engineering, is focused on upgrading today’s power grid into a smart grid that can maintain a reliable and secure electricity infrastructure to meet future demand growth.

“We cannot use fossil fuel energy forever even if we ignore its environmental impacts. Our lives also are becoming more and more contingent upon electricity, and no one can any longer tolerate power outages,” says Lavaei. “The design of the electricity grid of the future relies on upgrading the hardware part and deploying a better control system.”

To achieve the goal of developing optimization techniques specialized for smart grids, Lavaei has been steadily working on solving hard nonconvex mathematical problems such as the 50-year optimal power flow problem. His research addresses control of the real-time operation of power networks given the uncertain and time-varying demands of their residential, industrial, and commercial consumers.

In the past four years, Lavaei’s research has also centered on control and optimization theory for a range of related interdisciplinary applications in communications, circuits, networks, and computer science, including optimal design of very large-scale circuits and smart antenna design for wireless communications. He draws from his background in applied mathematics, control theory, and optimization to create advanced control systems such as one that could greatly improve the legacy power network—his current research endeavor.

Lavaei’s enthusiasm for electrical engineering started in high school, leading him to California Institute of Technology, where he received the Milton and Francis Clauser Doctoral Prize for best university-wide PhD thesis in 2011. He continued his post-doctoral research at Stanford University, and joined Columbia Engineering in the fall of 2012.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and several companies, including Google, have recognized Lavaei’s work with power systems. Lavaei is hopeful that his concepts will be broadly adopted in the near future.

“Since the operation of power grids is based on the same principles in most countries around the globe, I expect my research could have a really wide impact. It’s exciting to be able to make a difference,” he says.

BS, Sharif University of Technology, 2003; MASc, Concordia University, 2007; PhD, California Institute of Technology, 2011

-by Janet Haney

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