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Engineering systems as the continued evolution of engineering to real world problems

In a recent blog post entitled:  “Systems Engineering is just plain old Engineering — not more and certainly not less“, the author questions and discusses systems engineering, engineering systems as part of engineering.

Deeper insight is gained by looking at the definition of engineering itself.  One good definition of engineering is:  “Engineering is the professional art of applying science to the optimum conversion of the resources of nature to benefit man.”  In the same book, we find: “Engineering is an art requiring the judgement necessary to adapt knowledge to practical purposes, the imagination to conceive original solutions to problems, and the ability to predict performance and cost of new devices or processes.”  (D. W. Oliver, T. P. Kelliher, and J. G. Keegan, Engineering complex systems with models and objects. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997, pp. 25.)

The real question is whether engineering — as it stands today — does indeed meet these definitions.  Any discipline when analyzed traditionally is two things:  a core of methodological activities and a set of typical applications.   So the question becomes whether these methodological activities are sufficient for the applications; the practical problems that when solved would benefit man.

One challenge of modern engineering is its division into multiple disciplines.  Mechanical, electrical, civil and chemical are but a common few.  Each of these comes with their own core of methodologies and typical applications.   Therefore, it becomes increasingly difficult even within engineering itself to apply methodologies from one engineering discipline into another.  It is equally difficult to apply core methodologies in atypical applications.

Coming back to the definition of engineering, some practical problems are simply so big that they require methodological activities from multiple engineering disciplines and in of themselves are the union of multiple typical domains of application.  Here, it is important to recognize the common adage:  “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts“.

And so traditional systems engineering was born shortly after World War II.  Defense applications like jet fighters and satellites clearly draw from mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering.   Astronautical and Aeronautical engineering departments naturally recognize the need for cross-disciplinary activity and have often included the Systems Engineering Handbook within their curricula. Similar trends emerged in nuclear power plants and even highly automated production facilities.

The four research themes at the Laboratory for Intelligent Integrated Networks of Engineering Systems are further examples of this continuing trend.  The energy-water nexus draws heavily from electric power engineering and water resources management.  The electrification of transportation draws heavily from transportation engineering, electric power engineering, and the mechanical engineering of cars and trains.  Smart (power) grids — as cyber-physical systems — recognize that electric power engineering must expand to include new developments from control systems, optimization, signal processing, communications and information technology.  Similarly, reconfigurable manufacturing systems are cyber-physical and integrate similar subjects.

While integrating knowledge from multiple engineering disciplines is helpful, it is insufficient to meet the original definition of engineering as above.  What if the engineering application requires natural resources that are deemed too large by society?  Till today, people ask this of the Big Dig project in Boston.  Another question.  Does the engineering application truly benefit mankind?  We ask this today in the context of nuclear disarmament.  These questions draw heavily from economics, management, political science and ethics.  And they are relatively subjective as compared to the typical methodological activities found in the engineering disciplines.  And yet, it is naive to think that their solution does not require engaged participation of engineers and their disciplines.

These types of questions dominate 21st century problems as compared to those of the 20th century.  In the 20th century, traditional engineering disciplines began from a set of requirements and ended with some product or service as a solution.  These requirements represented the economics, regulations, policies and ethics as an operating box for engineers.   This role, however, is changing.  In the 21st century, engineers no longer take these “requirements” as given but instead have an expanding role of influence. Chief technology officers have increasingly important roles in the innovative success of modern companies.  Government regulators often seek engineers within their ranks.  And many nations are finding engineers within their legislative and executive branches of government.  We’ve moved from a decomposed top-down world to one that is innovative and bottom-up.

It is from this lens that the field of engineering systems finds itself.  It’s still the same engineering definition but the nature of the problem has changed.  This is a good sign.  Engineers are increasingly bringing pervasive solutions to benefit mankind.  As they do, they will increasingly interface with the disciplines devoted to people and society:  the humanities and social sciences.  As that happens, adhering to the definition of engineering will require engineers to converse with these disciplines.  Common definitions and methods are likely to develop as all of these disciplines collectively work to solve mankind’s techno-economic-social problems.

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LIINES Website: http://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

Siemens gives an IEEE PES Webinar on Microgrid Strategic Planning

As we have discussed many times, Smart Power Grids is one of the four essential research themes at the LIINES.  Our work generally advocates the concept of power grid enterprise control and a number of blogposts have been devoted to the topic.   One novel aspect of this work is the use of microgrids which may coordinate their own renewable energy but also have the potential to island themselves from the rest of the grid.  Microgrids — as the name suggests —  are relatively small and so their reliable operation requires careful attention to its design & planning.  In a sense, each generation, load, line and bus must be carefully considered.  

To that effect, we thought we’d share Siemens’ take on the subject.  Their recent IEEE PES Webinar on Microgrid Strategic Planning has recently been put up on youtube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWXt9v1JTA0

Full text of our smart power grid reference papers may be found on the LIINES publication page: http://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

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LIINES Websitehttp://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

Abu Dhabi Department of Transportation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries & Masdar Institute Joint Workshop

Following on the heals of their back-to-back conferences, Reem Al Junaibi and Prof. Amro M. Farid presented the results of their Abu Dhabi Electric Vehicle Technical Feasibility study in a joint workshop including participants from the Abu Dhabi Department of Transportation and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.  They were joined by Mohammad Al-Hadrami and Prof. Sgouris Sgouridis who also investigated the socio-economic barriers to electric vehicle adoption.  The workshop was held on the Masdar Institute campus on December 17th 2013 and marked the official end to what has been a tremendously successful project demonstrating collaboration between public, private, and academic entities.

After the day-long workshop, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries hosted Masdar Institute and the Abu Dhabi Department of Transportation in a two-day workshop in Malaga, Spain on December 19-20 2013.  Malaga, Spain proudly marks itself as one of Europe’s leading smart cities. The Zem2All project, with the largest deployment of Electric Vehicles, is a testament to this achievement.

Prof. Farid continues to advocate Intelligent Transportation-Energy Systems.  In other words, the intelligent system consisting of monitoring, decision-making and dispatching functionality should have a transportation as well as energy management function.  Efforts are currently underway at the LIINES to develop models and control solutions which may be directly integrated into Intelligent Transportation-Energy Systems.  A full reference list of energy-transportation nexus research at the LIINES can be found on the LIINES publication page: http://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

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LIINES Website: http://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

Reem Al Junaibi & Prof. Amro M. Farid present results of Abu Dhabi Electric Vehicle Technical Feasibility Study

In back-to-back conferences, Reem Al Junaibi and Prof. Amro M. Farid presented the results of their Abu Dhabi Electric Vehicle Technical Feasibility study.  Ms. Al Junaibi attended the 2nd IEEE International Conference on Connected Vehicles & Expo held December 2-6, 2013 in Las Vegas, NV, USA.  There, she presented the first published results of the study in the paper entitled:  “Technical Feasibility Assessment of Electric Vehicles : An Abu Dhabi Example”.  Meanwhile, Prof. Farid was invited to speak at the Gulf Traffic Conference held December 9-10 2013 in Dubai, UAE.

Both presentations revolved around the same theme.  The true success and feasibility of electric vehicles depends not just on the vehicle itself but also how it interacts with three large scale infrastructure systems:  the road transportation system, the power grid, and the intelligent transportation system.

Ms. Al Junaibi specifically presented some of the results of the study.  It considered twelve potential scenarios in which EV taxis were rolled out at a penetration of 3, 5 and 10% of road traffic with four possible charging system designs.  The results showed that if EV Taxi are to be deployed then their dispatching, queue management, charging and vehicle-2-grid stabilization activities must be simultaneously considered.  The ramifications of not doing so would be either degraded vehicle availability or high variable loads on the electric power grid or both.

Prof. Farid consequently argued that given the rapid push to transportation electrification and connected vehicles, intelligent transportation systems would better be considered as Intelligent Transportation-Energy Systems.  In other words, the intelligent system consisting of monitoring, decision-making and dispatching functionality should have a transportation as well as energy management function.

Efforts are currently underway at the LIINES are currently underway to develop models and control solutions which may be directly integrated into Intelligent Transportation-Energy Systems.  A full reference list of energy-transportation nexus research at LIINES can be found on the LIINES publication page: http://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

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LIINES Website: http://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

Journal Paper Accepted at the Applied Energy Journal: Real-Time Economic Dispatch for the Supply Side of the Energy-Water Nexus

The LIINES is happy to announce that Applied Energy Journal has accepted our recent paper entitled:  Real-Time Economic Dispatch for the Supply Side of the Energy-Water Nexus.   The paper is authored by Apoorva Santhosh, Prof. Amro M. Farid and Prof. Kamal Youcef-Toumi.

As previous blog posts have discussed, the topic of the energy-water nexus is timely.  In the Gulf Cooperation Council nations, it is of particular relevance because of the hot and arid climate.  Water scarcity is further aggravated high energy demands for cooling.  The GCC nations, however, have a tremendous opportunity in that they often operate their power and water infrastructure under a single operational entity.  Furthermore, the presence of cogeneration facilities such as Multi-Stage Flash desalination facilities fundamentally couple the power and water grids.

This paper is the first of its kind to present an optimization program that would economically dispatch power plants, cogeneration plants, and water plants.  In such a way, significant costs and resources can be saved in the production of both power and water.   The paper concludes with an illustrative example of how the optimization program could be implemented practically.

A full reference list of energy-water nexus research at LIINES can be found on the LIINES publication page: http://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

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LIINES Website: http://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

William Lubega presents Energy-Water Nexus Research at Complex Systems Design & Management Conference in Paris, France

On December 6th 2013, William Lubega and Prof. Amro M. Farid attended the Complex Systems Design & Management Conference in Paris, France.  William Lubega presented the jointly written paper entitled:  “An engineering systems model for the quantitative analysis of the energy-water nexus”.

This work builds upon the Reference Architecture for the Energy-Water Nexus recently published in the IEEE Systems Journal.  In our last blogpost, and as shown in the figure below, we described that this work provided a graphical representation of the energy-water nexus to qualitatively identify the couplings of energy and water.  The CSD&M paper was the first step in the quantification of this qualitative model using the bond graph modeling methodology.   As such, it could begin to answer questions about the energy intensity of the water supply chain and the water intensity of the energy supply chain in a rigorous and systematic framework.

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The aim of the CSD&M 2013 conference is to cover as completely as possible the field of complex systems sciences & practices.  It equally welcomes scientific and industrial contributions.

A full reference list of energy-water nexus research at LIINES can be found on the LIINES publication page: http://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

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LIINES Website: http://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

Journal Paper Accepted at the IEEE Systems Journal: A Reference System Architecture for the Energy-Water Nexus

The LIINES is happy to announce that The IEEE Systems Journal has accepted our recent paper entitled:  “A Reference Architecture for the Energy-Water Nexus” for publication. The paper is authored by William N. Lubega and Prof. Amro M. Farid.

The topic of the energy-water nexus is a timely one.  Global climate change, water scarcity, energy security and rapid population are at the forefront of sustainability concerns.  Furthermore, the fact that energy and water value chains very much depend on each other complicates how either system should be planned an operated.  And yet, the number, type and degree of interactions are hard to identify.  While the graphical depiction below illustrates many of the couplings, we are still a long way off from planning and operating this “systems-of-systems” sustainably.  And so we ask a first basic question:  “How can we begin to quantitatively understand the energy and water interactions in this nexus?”


As the paper explains, a good first step is develop what systems engineers call a reference architecture.  Plainly speaking, this requires three steps:

  1. Figure out all the component parts of the energy-water nexus (e.g. power plants, water treatment plants, etc)
  2. Figure out how each one works
  3. Figure out the inputs and outputs for each one focusing especially on flows of energy and water.

This starts out qualitatively with flow diagrams like the one shown below:

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In a sense, this helps us to see the “wood from the trees”.  The web of energy and water interactions now become clear for further quantified analysis.  As the readers will see in the coming weeks, this is exactly what we have done at the LIINES.

A full reference list of energy-water nexus research at LIINES can be found on the LIINES publication page: http://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

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LIINES Website: http://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

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