May 22, 2017

Duke student shares Energy Data Analytics Lab research with North Carolina legislators

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Although Hoël Wiesner graduated from Duke University on Sunday, he agreed to play "student" once more this week. Wiesner shared research on energy resource assessment with North Carolina legislators at the State Capitol on Tuesday as part of Graduate Education Day.

Wiesner, who just received a master's degree in environmental management (MEM) from Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment  and also holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Duke's Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, was part of an interdisciplinary Bass Connections research team hosted by the Duke University Energy Initiative's Energy Data Analytics Lab.

He was one of three Duke students selected by Graduate School deans to represent the University at the event in Raleigh, which is organized annually by the North Carolina Council of Graduate Schools to showcase the importance of graduate education to our state's economy.  

"Duke University takes part in Graduate Education Day each year with our sister institutions by highlighting student research. We want to make a statement that we are in this together as public and private institutions. Graduate education is so important it should be funded at the highest levels," explains Alan Kendrick, assistant dean for graduate student development at the Graduate School.   

"I appreciated the opportunity to talk with members of the General Assembly about what we do and why it's important," says Wiesner. "Though legislators are quite busy preparing the budget, I still managed to have a few great conversations about possible applications of our research to both the private and public sectors. Our project is a great example of how university research can help policymakers improve energy decision-making."

The research Wiesner shared: Estimating building-level energy consumption

The Energy Data Analytics Lab has worked with Bass Connections teams for 4 consecutive school years, along with two Data+ summer research teams. Most recently, undergraduates, graduate students and faculty have collaborated to use machine learning and visual object identification techniques to address significant energy questions.

The team's focus this year was to develop and test a new approach for estimating building-level energy consumption from high-resolution aerial imagery and U.S. Department of Energy building energy consumption data. This kind of information can be useful for cities in planning energy infrastructure and developing policy—but the time-intensive collection of the data has typically been deemed cost-prohibitive.

The approach—tested in Gainesville, Florida—yielded promising initial results, and the Energy Data Analytics Lab will continue refining the process.

This year's team included students from the Nicholas School of the Environment, Pratt School of Engineering, and the computer science, economics, and mathematics departments in Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. Faculty were Bradbury, Leslie Collins (Pratt), Tim Johnson (Nicholas), and Guillermo Sapiro (Pratt). 

What's next for Wiesner and the Energy Data Analytics Lab?

Energy Data Analytics Lab managing director Kyle Bradbury, who is also a lecturing fellow at the Pratt School of Engineering, reports that Wiesner was a "fantastic" project manager for the team. "He and his student colleague Samit Sura (MA Economics '17) worked tirelessly to both develop the research plan and implement the analyses needed for success with this project. They also acted as mentors for the undergraduate students and made the team efficient and enjoyable for the team as a whole."

Undergraduate team members included Mitchell Kim (BSE '18); Sebastian Lin (BS '18); Sophia Park (BSE '17); Eric Peshkin (BS '18); Nikhil Vanderklaauw (BSE '18) and Yue Xi (BS '19). 

In July, Wiesner will begin a full-time position as an installed capacity market operations analyst for the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), which operates competitive wholesale markets to manage the flow of electricity across New York.

"This Bass Connections project was a unique opportunity to work on groundbreaking data science research as part of a talented interdisciplinary team, which was very useful in preparing me for a job in the energy industry where knowledge of sciences, economics, and policies is crucial," Wiesner notes. "We produced tangible, interesting results and learned new skills from both teammates and advisors. In my six years at Duke, this might be my most valuable and enjoyable learning experience."  

The Energy Initiative, which administers the Bass Connections in Energy theme, will support nine project teams in 2017-2018. A team affiliated with the Energy Data Analytics Lab will focus on evaluating electricity access in developing countries, building on the work of a Data+ team this summer.

For more information about the Energy Data Analytics Lab, contact Kyle Bradbury.