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Manish Singh
September 26, 2023

Focus on new faculty: Manish K. Singh is getting the power grid ready for a renewable future

Written By: Jason Daley

Power grids across the world are in transition. As renewable energy makes up a larger and larger share of energy output, grids need to adapt. But it’s not as simple as swapping a coal-fired plant for a solar farm; fast-varying renewable generation can result in fluctuations and instability in grid voltage and frequency, meaning it needs to be carefully integrated into the power system.

That’s why Manish K. Singh, who joins the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as an assistant professor in November 2023, is working on updating optimization and control algorithms and theory to help grid operators manage the power systems as they transition to clean energy.

“Renewables are changing how the power system behaves. Earlier, the way the grid operated, there were huge power plants, a countable number of them. The grid never told people when to turn things off and on; all we cared about was smartly operating the huge power plants to meet the power demands,” he says. “But now we have electric vehicles which can allow the system operators to decide when to charge and when not too. There’s a large number of small rooftop solar and wind farms which could potentially be dispatchable. This increases the dimension and complexity of tasks in grid management. But the computational capabilities and the enabling mathematical frameworks are not yet there; and at times, the mechanistic explanation and modeling of new physical observations is lacking too. We are figuring all these things out.”

Singh earned his undergraduate degree at the Indian Institute of Technology in Varanasi. There, he says, some of the machines used during classes were very old motors and switchgear from the early 1900s, many made in London and shipped to India. Working on that classic, oversized equipment led him to a love of electric machines and power engineering.

After his undergraduate degree, he worked for three years at the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited, which runs the national grid. There, he was part of a project-based group that traveled across the country, performing experiments and taking measurements to understand the future needs of the grid. “We were working on a new topic every month,” he says. “So I came to know about the breadth of what’s going on in our systems and what we are trying to accomplish.”

He completed his PhD at Virginia Tech before working for the last two years as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota. There, he investigated modeling and control for future grids and developed machine learning and data-based methods to enable the upcoming transitions.

Singh says UW-Madison is an ideal place for his work. While many universities discontinued their power engineering programs decades ago, UW-Madison has never abandoned the space. As electricity grid technologies and power engineering research are regaining importance globally, the university has emerged as an academic leader. Singh says that reputation will help him communicate with colleagues in the power industry, many of whom are Badger alums, to make sure his research has a broad impact.

While Singh is excited to continue his research in Wisconsin, he says he’s equally excited to teach. In fact, before he found that he enjoyed complex research, he was attracted to academia because he wanted to be in the classroom. “It’s exciting because the kind of research I’m doing is not necessarily something that is relevant only at an advanced PhD level,” he says. “My work often affects how we fundamentally understand power systems. So that brings my research and teaching together.”

Top photo by Joel Hallberg