Agent Technology for Energy Systems (ATES2012) workshop

Tuesday 5 June 2012, Valencia, Spain

By Koen van Dam

The Agents and Autonomous Multi-Agent Systems conference (AAMAS) is one of the leading events for those interested in everything that is agent. Since 2010, Alex Rogers and his colleagues from Southampton University organise a workshop at the AAMAS conference focused solely on applications in the energy domain: Agent Technology for Energy Systems (ATES).

ATES2012, held on the 5th of June 2012 in Valencia, Spain, was an excellent opportunity to present the Digital City Exchange (DCE) programme to a community of modellers and domain experts. While we only just got started with the project and it was too early to present detailed outcomes, a short paper was accepted for the workshop after review and feedback from the workshop participants on the initial stages was positive. Hopefully a few new people will be watching us now!

The workshop addressed a wide range of energy subjects including the smart grid, electric vehicles, demand side management, smart homes, electricity storage, power grid operation and energy markets. A number of talks jumped out for DCE and are briefly introduced below, but that doesn’t mean the other talks weren’t highly interesting also. The proceedings of the workshop will be made available online.

Mertitxel Vinyals started the workshop with a talk on the formation of coalitions among energy consumers. The idea is that, similar to how websites such as Groupon provide better deals by combining consumer power, people could find one another – through social networking sites – matching their energy profile with others to find synergies among those with complementary profiles. This could help peak-shaving and should result in lower energy prices for those involved in such a coalition. One of the key challenges addressed was how to fairly distribute the financial benefit of teaming up among all the agents.

Next up was Jun-Young Kwak, who talked about the fact that there are often no good incentives for people to save energy, for example in an office where they are not the ones to pick up the tab. Kwak showed the SAVES tool with which competing objectives can be combined through negotiation, which has been applied in an experiment inside a real building. Directly related but at a smaller scale, Benoit Lacroix presented a multi-agent approach to controlling thermal systems in a low-energy house. He ran a simulation of 1 year, including changing seasons, to see which savings could be possible compared to other control systems developed by heating engineers. Soon this work will be evaluated in a test bed.

Beatriz López Ibánez presented a poster on energy management and the optimisation of energy costs to schedule tasks to make best use of available resources. Long Tran-Thanh worked on prediction of activities based on their patterns to help optimise scheduling and save energy as part of the Orchid project. That project also entails some interesting work on crowd-sourcing. Another poster, presented by Yoseba K. Penya, showed an agent-based model to generate spatial forecasts of energy loads over the medium to long term to inform decisions on the power grid design. This could especially be a great challenge when the behaviour of electric vehicles is included also.

Giusepp Loseto showed a semantic-based framework for a “knowledge-based house”. Using an ontology for the home environment and applying the EIB/KNX communication standard, the agents are able to communicate and negotiate about running appliances. For example, in a certain situation the agents can decide that it is better to heat the house with an electric heater rather than the more efficient heat pump, because electricity is being generated by solar PV panels and which cannot be used more efficiently otherwise. The idea is that this work could lead to non-experts selecting efficient home configurations.

Jereme Haack presented VOLTTRON, an agent-framework for power systems, benefiting from real-time data on the grid. The platform takes care of security (giving agents limited access to key elements of the infrastructure) and resource management (making sure agents have enough resources to successfully complete their task) so agent developers can concentrate on the implementation of the (control) behaviour. The group at Pacific Northwest National Lab also has a very interesting sounding power grid simulator.

Taking advantage of thermal inertia (the delay between an energy load, such as the use of gas and electricity for heating, and the noticeable change in temperature), Christian Johansson showed which savings can be made when synchronising heat loads and electricity spot prices with combined heat and power (CHP). A spinoff from a university project is now actively installing this system in large buildings in Sweden and abroad.

Stijn Vandael used ants to demonstrate his electric vehicle (EV) charging system, trying to answer the question how charging decisions of EV owners affect those of others. He simulated a stretch of a motorway with various entry and exit points as well as a number of charging stations. EV agents send “ants” out to explore the possible charging points ahead and report back with the costs of charging (or, in some cases, that there is not enough energy left to keep driving without stopping for a quick charge). The charging stations this way also know who is coming and when they will require charging, so it can also plan its pricing accordingly making most efficient use of the infrastructure.

In Masdar City, an “eco town” currently being built in the desert, energy use needs to be balanced with when electricity if being generated through solar power. Iyad Rahwan presented a project using electricity storage so people can still use electricity when they want without having to adjust the time of demand, but still making use of the electricity being generated locally. Thomas Konnerth then had the difficult task of being the last speaker of the workshop, but his open-source network simulator Nessi2 sounds worth looking at in more detail, particularly because they have been performing simulations on the interdependencies between networks, namely electricity and ICT.

At the end of the workshop the participants agreed that it is certainly worth keeping this topic as a separate one day workshop at AAMAS, so we can start looking forward to ATES2013 already!

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