Joe Chow, power grid control expert and professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, was recently named Institute Professor of Engineering, one of the highest and most prestigious honors bestowed upon a Rensselaer faculty member.
Over the past three decades, Chow has been at the cutting edge of electric power systems engineering. His work in modeling and control of large-scale power systems has growing applications in development and maintenance of smart grids. For example, his work on synchrophasors, devices that make real-time measurements of electrical quantities, allows new mechanisms to monitor the power grid for boosting the amount of energy that can be reliably transmitted on high-power, high-voltage electric grids.
Chow has published more than 250 papers in technical journals and conference proceedings. He has also published two books in the area of controls, two research monographs on large-scale power systems model reductions, and is the editor of three volumes of contributed papers. He is also the editor for the Power Electronics and Power System Series for Springer Publishing. His algorithm for identifying coherent generators in large power systems is used widely in industry software packages. His MATLAB Power System Toolbox is used by numerous universities and companies worldwide.
Chow says that the interconnection of various power grids that have led to enormous economies of scale, along with occasional widespread blackouts, drew him to this area of research. “My training in large systems has allowed me to develop techniques and insights to improve the reliable operation of these interconnected power grids.”
Chow also serves as the campus director of the Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), jointly funded by NSF and the U.S. Department of Energy. CURENT is dedicated to developing the next generation of electric grids, or “smart grids,” that promise higher efficiency, greater reliability, and the smooth integration of renewable energy sources into large power transmission systems.
“Rensselaer has strong programs in power systems and power electronics,” Chow said. “Our vision is to develop ultra-efficient homes and buildings equipped with smart meters, easy interfaces that allow us to see when and how we’re using energy, and seamless integration of home-based solar and wind power generation into the larger grid. In collaboration with UTK and others, CURENT sets us on that path.”
“Power systems have undergone significant changes, from deregulation of electricity markets to the deployment of synchronous phasor methods to significant influx of renewable energy,” Chow said when speaking about his fascination with the field. “Each ‘mega’ change has produced new challenges and opportunities for research. There is never a dull moment when a researcher runs out of a good problem to tackle.”
“We are truly delighted with Joe’s appointment as an Institute Professor,” said Shekhar Garde, dean of engineering. “His career at Rensselaer is a shining example of excellence in research, teaching, and selfless service sustained over three decades. His impact has been tremendous indeed. Energy and sustainability are among the grand challenges facing humanity, and Joe’s work in electric power systems is making a difference on both fronts.”
Earlier this year, Chow was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in recognition of his technical contributions to modeling, analysis, and control of large-scale power grids. Election to the NAE is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. Academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to “engineering research, practice, or education, including significant contributions to the engineering literature” and to “the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology,” according to the organization.
Before his election to the NAE, Chow was recognized with numerous prestigious awards, including the IEEE Power and Engineering Society’s Charles Concordia Power System Engineering Award. Chow is the first United States educator to receive the Concordia Award in the award’s history. Last year, Chow was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Professor of Engineering Award from School of Engineering.
Chow received his bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota, and his master’s and Ph.D. from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He worked at GE as a power and systems engineer for nine years, and joined Rensselaer in 1987. Chow has served in various leadership positions in the department, school, and the Institute. In addition, he has supervised 25 Ph.D. students, over 30 master’s degree students, and has mentored numerous junior faculty.
“Joe’s technical leadership has been a constant source of inspiration to the department,” said Michael J. Wozny, professor, who also serves as acting head of the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering. “He has reached out and encouraged young colleagues working in related research areas to join him in addressing important power engineering problems. But he went further and obtained many joint research contracts and grants with them to solidify the working relationships, thus enhancing their careers.”
“I am very grateful to be named as an Institute Professor and thankful for the support that the Institute has provided to me throughout my Rensselaer career,” Chow said. “My goal now is not only to grow the electric power program within the power group, but to include faculty in other disciplines to contribute to power system research.”