ECSE Students Intern with Dominion Energy in Continued Collaboration

Posted October 27, 2021
From Left: Brennan Loder, Eric Segerstrom and Sergio Dorado-Rojas
From Left: Brennan Loder, Eric Segerstrom and Sergio Dorado-Rojas
This summer, three students in the Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering Department interned with Dominion Energy, encouraged by a collaboration between ECSE Prof. Luigi Vanfretti’s ALSET Lab and their own personal interest in electric power.

Brennan Loder, an undergraduate student in Electrical Engineering (Class of 2022), interned in Data Analytics. He analyzed spectrograms from previous data that Dominion Energy had collected over the past 3 years, focusing on the interaction between hydropower and solar power in the grid. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Loder’s internship was all working from home, which he said taught him to be a part of a remote team, and continued to foster his time management and organization skills.

After his freshman year, Loder interned with the New York State power authority, which provided him with first hand exposure to hydro generation and sparked a passion for sustainable energy, moving away from coal and finding ways to provide affordable energy to everyone without harming the environment. As a result, he connected with Prof. Vanfretti in the ALSET Lab to explore in power transmission and power generation. Loder did an Undergraduate Research Project (URP) with Prof. Vanfretti in Spring 2021, a project which is ongoing this Fall 2021 semester. The hardware Loder is using for his URP in the ALSET Lab was donated by Dominion, so the experience he had with the equipment and how and what Dominion Energy uses it for, rolled that over into his summer project. This semester, he is continuing that project with Prof. Vanfretti as another URP. All of his research and work has been related to power transmission and grid interaction between hydro power and solar power. Loder plans to continue this research until his graduation in Spring 2022.

Eric Segerstrom transferred to RPI from Hudson Valley Community College, after previously completing a degree at Juilliard. He completed his Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering in May of 2021, and is now a Ph.D. Student in Electrical Engineering, working with Prof. Luigi Vanfretti.

His summer internship with Dominion Energy focused on power system measurements, providing him with his first experience working with actual power systems, rather than theoretical studies. Like Loder, Segerstrom worked with data analytics, on a cloud-based platform that captures streams of data from phasor measurement units, which were then imported to Python for analysis. He worked to develop simple ML clustering algorithms for estimating the presence of oscillatory modes in the frequency spectra of data streams. While the data analytics work from his internship is not necessarily his main research focus, Segerstrom called it a great experience. He also stated that working with real data gave him perspective and great hands on experience that expanded on examples he worked on in class, solidifying his interest in the field.

In fact, he is still working with Dominion Energy, though on a more modeling and simulation-based project. His experience from the summer, working with actual data, has helped strengthen his work in simulations.

For his own research, Segerstrom is mostly interested in incorporating renewables into the power grid. According to Segerstrom, renewables are volatile and hard to predict, and that is something that you don’t want because it can affect the system. Analytics can be used to predict when and where that is happening.

Segerstrom wants his research to help people. The acoustics research he did during his degree at Hudson Valley used similar spectral analysis techniques to the ones he is using now as he is researching and taking power classes. When discussing his motivation for what he is studying, Segerstrom emphasized that everyone needs power and are going to be needing more, adding that “working on something that is a public good is pretty satisfying.”

Sergio Dorado-Rojas is currently a Ph.D. Student in Electrical Engineering at RPI, working with Prof. Luigi Vanfretti. He completed his M.S. in Electrical Engineering in the Fall of 2020.

For Dorado-Rojas, interning with Dominion Energy this summer was a long time coming. He had applied to intern in Summer 2020, but as a result of the pandemic, had to withdraw. Dorado-Rojas is interested in working with electricity in public service, which drew him to intern with Dominion Energy.

While he had previously worked on data analytics in research with Prof. Vanfretti, Dorado-Rojas’ group at Dominion Energy was the Special Studies group, whose work responds to different needs across the company’s footprint. His summer work was in Protection Systems, devices and schemes that attempt to preserve equipment after a failure.  Protections is a subject, he says, you must learn when you join a utility company, and is something that is better learned through experience. Dorado-Rojas validated protection schemes using real-time simulations. In this context, real-time means you make sure the time your experiment takes will is the same as it would do in reality. Such scheme allows to test actual protective hardware deployed on the field under fault conditions in a safe fashion.

Dorado-Rojas’ own work with Prof. Vanfretti is in power system identification, monitoring and control. These topics have remarkable importance since the electric grid is in some ways a living being: you need to check its vitals constantly and see how everything is performing before taking corrective action.  According to Dorado-Rojas, the electricity industry is underrated, but vital for what we do on a daily basis. Electrical energy is integral to daily life, but not much attention is paid to challenges in the field. This importance is one of the reasons Dorado-Rojas chose power systems as his research area, the profound impact it has on society, and the way that it demands more of him, pushing him to learn more each day. He wants to meet the challenge of developing practical solutions for the electric grid, which he sees as some of the most complex engineering built by humans.

For him, working with Dominion Energy was a dream opportunity due to the work itself, and the company atmosphere. He will return as an intern next summer working with the Data Analytics group and hopes to continue his work with them in the future.

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