Internet research that's energizing the grid

Catherine RosenbergThe Internet is set to give volts a jolt and Catherine Rosenberg, the new Canada Research Chair in the Future Internet, is at the forefront of research that could change the way we interact with the electrical grid.

Rosenberg works alongside Waterloo electrical engineering graduate students and postdoctoral fellows as well as computer science professor Srinivasan Keshav at the Information Systems and Science for Energy (ISS4E) laboratory to find ways to use some of the concepts invented for the Internet for the world’s electrical grids.

Making the link is not as much of a leap in lateral thinking as one might suppose, explains Rosenberg, an electrical and computer engineering professor. “The electrical grid today is relatively centralized and well-controlled, but the smart grid of tomorrow is going to be completely different,” she says. “It’s going to look a lot like the Internet.”

Both the Internet and the electrical grid are critical infrastructures that have much more in common than many people realize. In 20 years, it’s predicted that we’ll enter an age of generating the energy we need to light streets, heat houses or even run the Internet in our offices by way of many renewable sources such as wind or solar.

The Internet has become an exceptional training ground for understanding large, complex, distributed systems. Researchers have had to find new ways to keep the Internet robust in spite of a huge increase of demand, particularly in the last 10 years. “There are many things that we have learned when trying to control the Internet that we can use to control other systems like the next-generation grid,” Rosenberg says.

Collaborating with individuals, industry and research groups, including the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy, has allowed Rosenberg to fulfill the mandate of ISS4E which is to apply expertise in information systems and sciences to find innovative solutions to large-scale problems in energy systems. At the same time, she leads a more traditional research program centred on wireless technology, quality of service, user incentives, policies, and how to make the Internet simply better.

“There are a lot of things we Internet people do not understand about energy, but we understand large systems,” says Rosenberg. “There is power in working together with others, especially at Waterloo.”