Meet the Energy Data Analytics Ph.D. Student Fellows for 2018-19

Energy Data Analytics Ph.D. Student Fellows

The growth of energy-related data in the last decade has created new opportunities for data-driven exploration of solutions to energy problems. Capitalizing on the opportunities presented by this wealth of data will require scholars with training in both data science and energy application domains. Yet traditional graduate education is limited in its ability to provide such dual expertise.

That’s why the Duke University Energy Initiative established the Energy Data Analytics Ph.D. Student Fellows program, preparing cohorts of next-generation scholars to deftly wield data in pursuit of accessible, affordable, reliable, and clean energy systems. 

Each fellow will conduct a related research project for nine months, working with faculty from multiple disciplines. In addition to funding equivalent to one half of a full fellowship for an academic year, fellows will receive conference travel support and data acquisition support up to $2,000, as well as priority access to virtual machines, storage, and other computational resources. The scholarship of the first two cohorts of fellows will be highlighted at a symposium at Duke University in Spring 2020.

The program, which will support a cohort of four fellows in 2018-2019 and a second cohort of four in 2019-2020, is affiliated with the Energy Data Analytics Lab, a collaborative effort of the Duke University Energy Initiative (which houses it), the Information Initiative at Duke (iiD), and the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI). The fellows program is funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. (Note: Conclusions reached or positions taken by researchers or other grantees represent the views of the grantees themselves and not those of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation or its trustees, officers, or staff.)

Bohao Huang

Bohao Huang is a Ph.D. student in Electrical & Computer Engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. He is part of the Applied Machine Learning Lab at Duke. He focuses on the translation of advanced machine learning techniques into practical solutions for challenging real-world problems.

Energy security is vital to the prosperity and sustainability of modern societies. Ensuring energy security relies upon effective decision-making and energy systems modeling, a crucial component of which is access to high quality energy systems information. Unfortunately, however such information is often of limited availability, incomplete, or difficult to access because it is proprietary. Aerial imagery (e.g., color satellite imagery) is increasingly cheap and abundant, and may provide a rich source of energy systems information, but extracting useful information from such imagery is costly. I propose to leverage recent advances in deep learning to develop algorithms that can automatically extract useful energy systems information from large volumes of aerial imagery, potentially yielding a powerful and scalable new source of such information.

Qingran Li

Qingran Li is a Ph.D. student in the University Program in Environmental Policy (economics track) offered jointly by Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Sanford School of Public Policy. Her research includes using analytical tools to understand behavioral responses to policies and developing interdisciplinary solutions to energy and environmental issues.

Residential electricity consumption is an important indicator of household characteristics, but it is often held confidential by utilities and seldom reported by publicly available energy surveys. Missing such information significantly constrains our ability to answer important policy questions. My project targets a big question: How can we estimate residential electricity demand more precisely? Using the smart meter data set from an Irish CER trial project and the national time use survey, this project aims at correcting the estimation bias from behavioral and policy-related factors which are often overlooked in the conventional engineering and statistical models. A new algorithm will be developed to identify residential usage patterns with additional information provided by behavioral surveys so that information lost from inadequate load samplings can be compensated.

Edgar Virguez

Edgar Virguez is a student in the doctoral program in Environment at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. He is interested in contributing to the understanding of market mechanisms that facilitate the integration of variable energy resources. He holds a BS in environmental engineering, a BS in chemical engineering and a MS in environmental engineering. During the last decade, he has worked with several institutions (e.g., Universidad de los Andes, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank) promoting the adoption of cleaner fuels in transport and industry throughout Latin America.

My project aims to design quantitative tools supporting the process of assessing policy and market approaches, promoting an increased penetration of variable energy resources in the energy matrix. This assessment will be performed based on the economic, reliability, and environmental dimensions of the electric power system, accounting for the benefits of reduced fuel use and emissions, and for the increased capital costs of renewables and the necessary re-dispatching of conventional generators.

Tianyu Wang

Tianyu is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at Duke. Before coming to Duke, he obtained a B.S. in mathematics and computer science from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. His general research interests are in machine learning and applications of machine learning algorithms.

With the accumulation of energy data, energy domain problems are in need of more sophisticated machine learning models such as neural networks. However, building neural networks of high quality requires heavy human effort, since different hyperparameter configurations lead to significantly different performances. My project will use a multi-armed bandit approach to efficiently design the architecture of neural networks for energy domain problems such as energy demand prediction.

Excerpted from Energy Initiative Announces Its Inaugural Cohort of Energy Data Analytics PhD Student Fellows on the Duke University Energy Initiative website

Energy Access Project Offers Summer Funding for Student Internships and Research

Deadline: March 8, 2018

The Energy Access Project at Duke University (EAP) is a new research and policy effort that aims to address the challenges around increasing access to modern energy solutions to underserved populations around the world. We take an interdisciplinary approach to developing sustainable, modern energy for all. Established in 2017, the project supports foundational research and fosters constructive dialogue among the world’s policy makers, entrepreneurs, and scholars to identify ways of applying that research.

Key collaborators include the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Duke University Energy Initiative, the Sanford School of Public PolicyBass Connections, and the Nicholas School of the Environment.

The EAP invites proposals for student internships or research projects in Summer 2018 related to energy access in less‐developed countries, with a focus on either modern technologies and fuels for cooking, or access to reliable, affordable, safe, and sustainable electricity. The EAP is particularly interested in internships or projects that (i) promote innovative approaches to accelerate sustainable energy transitions in less‐developed countries; (ii) offer insights that are applicable or generalizable to wider audiences; (iii) help to close the know‐do gap between academic researchers and public and private practitioners; and/or (iv) are related to ongoing research or research interests of Duke faculty.

Undergraduate and graduate students at Duke University who are currently enrolled, and will be enrolled full‐time at Duke in Fall 2018, are eligible to apply for up to $5,000. While funding is available for a variety of experiences including internships or research projects, we will prioritize proposals that identify a sponsoring organization that the student has established contact with and secured logistical and institutional support from. We will prioritize proposals for internships or research projects in the field (i.e., in less developed countries with communities that directly experience energy access challenges); however, we will also accept proposals for internships or projects based at Duke, or in other parts of the developed world. While the EAP recognizes that energy poverty exists worldwide, including in developed countries, at present we focus exclusively on less‐developed countries. If you are uncertain if your setting is included, we encourage you to contact us before applying.

We will prioritize funding for travel and living expenses, and we will also consider (with lower priority) requests for payments to sponsoring organizations, funding to purchase equipment or data, or translation services. This call for proposals is not intended to provide funding for tuition for language schools, nor student stipends or salaries.

Proposals must be submitted electronically (MS Word preferred) to by 5:00 pm (EST) Thursday, March 8, 2018. Proposals submitted after this time will not be considered.


Proposals should be two to three pages long and must include the following:

  • Your contact information: Name, degree program and expected graduation year, department, faculty advisor, and email address.
  • Description of the project or internship. This section should be reasonably well detailed, and should include specific responsibilities to the extent you know them. If the experience includes field work, please also indicate how long you intend to stay in the country, and where specifically you will be (in one city, traveling to communities, etc.).
  • Description of the sponsoring organization (if applicable), including location, and the nature of your conversations with the organization to date. Please note whether the organization has agreed to provide logistical and institutional support, and describe the nature of this support (e.g., an office space, teammates, logistical or language support for travel, etc.).
  • How your proposed project or internship contributes to the priorities of the EAP, as noted in this call for proposals and on the EAP website. If you believe your project or internship relates to ongoing research or research interests of Duke faculty, please identify the relevant faculty member(s) and describe how it relates to their research program(s).
  • How your proposal fits within your academic program, and within your broader learning goals and/or professional goals.
  • What other funding sources you have applied or intend to apply for, including amounts you have already secured. (For undergraduates, please indicate if you have also applied to Duke Engage; if not, please explain why not).
  • A budget for the proposed internship or (Budget information can be provided on a separate page.)


Questions or clarifications may be addressed to Rob Fetter, Senior Policy Associate at the Nicholas Institute:

Duke Introduces Interdisciplinary Energy Access Project at D.C. Event

Tim Profeta and panelists at Energy Access launch event

Leaders from business, government, civil society and academia came together in Washington, D.C., on February 23 to explore one of the world’s most pressing challenges at Accelerating Global Energy Access, the formal introduction to Duke University’s Energy Access Project.

Nearly a third of humanity lacks reliable electricity and three billion people are without clean fuels and technologies for cooking. At the event, Energy Access Project staff and sector leaders examined ways to tackle the energy access challenge in conversation on the use of renewables, so-called last mile electrification, and financing to support viable pathways to sustainable and modern energy solutions for all.

Jim Rogers at Energy Access launch event

Highlighting the event agenda was a keynote address by Jim Rogers former CEO and chairman of the board for the electric utility Duke Energy and an advocate for universal electricity access. With his wife M.A. Rogers, he gave $1.5 million that was matched with $750,000 from the Bass Connections Challenge to support the project’s goal of accelerating deployment of sustainable energy and empowering the world through expanded energy access.

Key Duke collaborators in Duke’s Energy Access Project include the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Duke University Energy Initiative, the Sanford School of Public PolicyBass Connections, and the Nicholas School of the Environment.

Harshvardhan Sanghi at the Energy Access launch event

Originally posted on the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions website

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Photos by Laurence Genon. Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, with panelists; Jim Rogers; Harshvardhan Sanghi, Duke sophomore and member of the Bass Connections project team Energy Data Analytics Lab: Electricity Access in Developing Countries from Aerial Imagery