Alumnus (Postdoctoral Fellow) and Associate, Harvard-China Project
Researcher Spotlight (first published 2020): As a young boy, Tianguang Lu idolized his electrical engineer father, and his career path commenced accordingly. “I was deeply influenced by him,” says Lu, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard-China Project. “In the beginning, I hoped to follow in my father’s footsteps to make my contribution to the electric power industry.” But as Lu progressed in his graduate studies, he fell in love with research. “Although sometimes there was pressure when I ran into a bottleneck,” he says, “after I solved the problem, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.”
As his work advanced to the study of regional energy systems, he began to realize that he could also incorporate fields beyond electrical engineering, employing elements of data mining methods such as machine learning to better divine critical information as well as economic methods like game theory to help explore operation and market interactions between different regional energy systems.
He sees this same kind of interdisciplinary approach at work at Harvard-China Project. “Here, you can collaborate with scholars from many fields—including economics, environment, and energy,” he says. Which helps, he notes, because so much of these topics are inherently intertwined. He offers the example of his current research, which is focused on the integration of low-carbon, low-emission power generation into India’s power systems, and conducted under the leadership of HCP Chair Michael McElroy, who has expertise in air pollution, greenhouse gases, and climate, and in collaboration with current Ph.D. student Peter Sherman and HCP associate Xinyu Chen, both of whom focus on climate and energy.
Specifically, Lu says, his work on India seeks to better understand “how the combination of wind and solar can meet the future power demand, because India's population will grow very fast in the future.” Lu’s analysis has found that while some studies on Indian energy systems conclude that solar power will dominate the future of renewable energy in the country—mostly due to the existing rich solar resources—the reality is more complex. “Yes, at a lower level of renewable penetration, the power sector did favor solar investment,” Lu says of his research findings. “But a higher penetration of renewables will favor wind power, because there is less variability from wind power, and wind will have a greater capacity factor”—the ratio of energy produced by a system relevant to its theoretical maximum.
This kind of state-level renewable integration that the India project is attempting, Lu says, is a monumental challenge with an equally monumental potential payoff. “It offers a big opportunity to solve various problems like greenhouse gas emissions and pollution,” he says. “The goal of my work is to understand how energy systems can integrate more renewables to let the world be more green.”
Lu’s career has taken a more academic path than his father’s, he notes. But he and his father still talk shop. Lu has his analytical perspective of engineering. “And I often speak to him about the practical aspect,” he says.
By Dan Morrell