July 06, 2020
Scott Institute Senior Energy Fellow Larry Pileggi Investigates Grid Problems
By Vinita SrinivasanMedia Inquiries
This is the fourth article in a series on faculty profiles.
The CMU Scott Institute for Energy Innovation named Lawrence Pileggi a Senior Energy Fellow in April 2020. The innovative researcher’s work ranges from the simulation and modeling of electric power systems to the design and automation of integrated circuits—his primary area of research.
“Energy is always the foremost issue in chip design. The goal is to make chips that consume the least amount of energy as possible for a variety of applications,” said Pileggi, the Tanoto Professor and Head of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department.
His group also looks at how power is distributed to a chip, which involves complex modeling and simulation. Leveraging this work, Pileggi and his team developed a simulation and optimization tool called SUGAR™ (Suite of Unified Grid Analyses with Renewables) that is applicable to power analysis for national grids. The tool now powers Pearl Street Technologies, a startup co-founded by Pileggi, that enables the planning of safe, reliable and green energy through advanced modeling, simulation and optimization technology.
“Utilities are continuously trying to predict the power that is needed to supply the loads that are being consumed. You don’t want to produce power and not use it. This tool provides advanced capabilities to simulate and project how much power would be needed for any given scenario,” said Pileggi, a 1989 doctoral graduate of the ECE Department.
He adds, “This is crucial, especially within the context of renewables, where there is significant uncertainty with green energy, such as that based on wind and solar. In addition, simulation and optimization help with ensuring the resilience and stability of the power grid.”
In collaboration with Carnegie Mellon Africa faculty, Pileggi is also analyzing the Nigerian grid, which he says is unstable and unreliable, compared to the U.S. grid. The country relies on diesel generators for backup power sources.
“Burning diesel generators is probably the worst thing you can do for the earth,” said Pileggi, illustrating how this ongoing project could have a positive impact on climate.
As a Senior Fellow, Pileggi said he appreciates the traction and interest his group has received for their work in the energy arena.
“The fellowship has opened up opportunities for collaboration with researchers in this field, especially within the Scott Institute,” said Pileggi.
Along with his research and prior to being named Head of the ECE Department, Pileggi taught a graduate course on circuit simulation algorithms for electronic integrated circuits. Overtime, he and his PhD students adapted the curriculum to include power systems.
Initial work from the course earned Pileggi and his students the Prize Paper Award in the Best Conference Papers Session on Power System Planning, Operation and Electricity Markets at the 2017 IEEE Power and Energy Society General Meeting. The paper, “Improving Power Flow Robustness via Circuit Simulation Methods,” demonstrated how their unique circuit modeling approach could provide robust convergence for simulation of transmission and distribution of current and voltage for large scale electric utility grids.
Pileggi’s prolific work spans 350 conference and journal papers and 40 U.S. patents. He has co-authored two books: “Electronic Circuit and System Simulation Methods” and “IC Interconnect Analysis.”
Before joining CMU, Pileggi held positions at Westinghouse Research and Development and the University of Texas at Austin. Along with Pearl Street Technologies, he has co-founded the companies Fabbrix, Xigmix and Extreme Design Automation and has consulted for various semiconductor businesses.
He is the recipient of various awards including Westinghouse Electric Corporation’s highest engineering achievement award, a Presidential Young Investigator award from the National Science Foundation, Semiconductor Research Corporation Technical Excellence Awards in 1991 and 1999, the FCRP inaugural Richard A. Newton GSRC Industrial Impact Award, the SRC Aristotle award in 2008, the 2010 IEEE Circuits and Systems Society Mac Van Valkenburg Award, the ACM/IEEE A. Richard Newton Technical Impact Award in Electronic Design Automation in 2011, the Carnegie Institute of Technology B.R. Teare Teaching Award for 2013 and the 2015 Semiconductor Industry Association University Researcher Award.
Outside of his work, Pileggi is a poker tournament player and said he enjoys the intricate strategies behind the game. He’s read 20-30 books on the topic and competes nationally. In 2018, Pileggi finished in the top three percent of competitors in the World Series of Poker main event in Las Vegas—taking home over $35,000. In 2013, he won Poker Night in America and received an over $70,000 prize.
Pileggi also has one daughter, a graduate of CMU’s Statistics and Data Science Department.