In today's dynamic environment where electricity demand is skyrocketing, power converters are the unsung heroes quietly transforming the way we harness and utilize electrical energy and seamlessly fueling our daily lives – from the ubiquitous wall chargers powering up everything from laptops to cell phones to integral parts of electrical systems that keep offshore wind turbines spinning. By 2030, over 80% of electricity is expected to flow through power converters, creating a pressing need to extend their operational lifetime.
“Without power conversion, you cannot really get energy from or efficiently from solar panels and wind turbines, you cannot charge electric vehicles, you cannot run motor drives in electric vehicles, because power electronics is an essential component,” said Harish Krishnamoorthy, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston. “This is a critical area of research and development.”
Krishnamoorthy, who is also associate director of the Power Electronics, Microgrids and Subsea Electric Systems Center (PEMSEC) at UH, has focused his career and research on high-density power conversion for grid interface of energy systems, machine learning-based methods for improving the quality and reliability of power electronics, advanced electronics and control for mission-critical applications.
His work has earned him his latest accolade – a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his proposal, “Enhancing the State of Health and Performance of Electronics via in-situ Monitoring and Prediction (SHaPE-MaP) - Toward Edge Intelligence in Power Conversion,” scheduled to run through May 2028.
The Research Project
One of the critical challenges facing existing converter installations is the difficulty in assessing their health, predicting system behavior, and adapting their performance in real-time without disrupting operations. To address this, Krishnamoorthy and his research team will be working on what is referred to as 'Edge Intelligence,' a seamless integration of data-driven prognostic health management with power converters onboard.
The need for additional computing resources has also been a significant barrier, making it seemingly impractical in applications with a large number of power converters, such as data centers and solar PV farms.
However, the introduction of the SHaPE-MaP framework will enable edge intelligence, revolutionizing power converter hardware and control systems.
The proposed framework, utilizing onboard FPGAs or processors, aims to enhance the health and performance of power electronics through in-situ monitoring and prediction. Successful implementation will enable aged or potentially failing modules to be identified in real time, avoiding unnecessary decommissioning and significantly increasing the operational life of power converters.
Four key thrusts drive the project: (1) development of integrated devices and onboard systems to estimate degradation at the component level; (2) in-situ implementation of health prediction techniques, resilient handling of faults and converters using machine learning; (3) status estimation of fault handling and cyber-attacks using edge intelligence; and (4) the design of coordinated circuits with embedded systems to minimize computing resources.
“The SHaPE-MaP framework holds vast implications for large-scale converter applications, potentially saving hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars,” Krishnamoorthy said. “System operators will benefit from improved decision-making regarding maintenance or repairs, while the supply chain team will gain better logistics estimation and inventory management.”
Outreach and Engagement
The impact of the project extends beyond cost savings. An integral part of Krishnamoorthy’s proposal involves an interactive educational program designed to reach and engage K-12 and college students.
“Most universities offer undergraduate courses in power and energy only as electives and typically in the senior year, which means many bright students either never realize the importance of power conversion or they choose a different field even before encountering this field of study in their senior year,” he said.
Krishnamoorthy, who has been involved with the Science and Engineering Fair, Houston (SEFH) and Harmony Science and Engineering Fair (HSEF) for years, plans to partner with local schools interested in STEM Energy education.
He also plans to work with Cullen College of Engineering’s G.R.A.D.E. (Girls Reaching and Demonstrating Excellence) Camp – a summer program introducing girls, in grades seven through 11, to the wonders of engineering.
By reaching students earlier, engaging their interest and fostering interdisciplinary learning and collaboration, Krishnamoorthy hopes to inspire and educate the next generation of innovators in the field of power electronics.
The prestigious NSF CAREER award provides $500,015 in funding for Krishnamoorthy’s project, which enables him to continue his research and add more graduate student researchers to his team. And he plans to work with the Office of Undergraduate Research and Major Awards (OURMA) at UH to create more research opportunities for undergraduate students.
“I am honored and energized by the five years of support from the NSF for my work,” he said. “I am very excited to do this critical work, nurture future researchers in this field, and make a difference in the world’s struggle for reliable, sustainable, and affordable energy for all.” He also thanked his mentors and colleagues for helping him in his journey.
Krishnamoorthy earned his doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from Texas A&M in 2015. He earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering from the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in India. Cullen College of Engineering hired him in 2017 after he’d already worked in industry at places like Schlumberger, General Electric (GE) Energy, Ford Motor Company and Google.
His other 2023 accolades include the IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS) Young Professional Exceptional Service Award and an Early-Career Research Fellowship (ECRF) from the U.S. National Academies (NASEM) Gulf Research Program. He was also recognized as a 2022 OTC Emerging Leader and was selected to participate in the National Academy of Engineering's Grainger Foundation Frontiers of Engineering 2022 U.S.-based symposium.
In 2020, Krishnamoorthy received over $1.1 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop compact electric power systems for radar and other equipment, and in 2022 he won a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (ARPA-E) to build state-of-the-art power conversion systems for high-temperature applications such as downhole oil & gas.