With rising global demand for electricity, the world needs Smart Power Systems that are resilient to energy demand, but with increased efficiency and with better utilisation of renewable energy sources, keeping in mind the larger goal of providing uninterrupted power supply.

Vikas Pratap, our next pathbreaker, works on advanced power management solutions that predict energy demand through forecasts so power companies can plan their dispatch schedules based on load requirements.

Vikas talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about realising the enormous potential for advancements in the current state of Power systems through applications of Soft Computing (Neural Networks) and completed his PhD in the area of Solar Power Generation forecasting.

For students, our shift towards Renewable Energy will be gradual. But this transition requires Intelligent Power systems that can not only forecast demand but also optimize the energy mix (Renewable vs non-Renewable) through near accurate forecasts of Renewable Power Generation.

Vikas, tell us about your background?

I am Vikas Pratap Singh from “The City of Tajmahal“, Agra, Uttar Pradesh. I am currently working in Pune. I was born in 1987 and grew up in the Eco Village of Agra- “Dayalbagh”. It was established in 1915 by Sir Anand swarup (Sahabji Maharaj, Fifth leader of Radhasoami faith). One of his quotes on education,“Education, More Education, Education made perfect is the only panacea for all the country’s ills and evils” always motivated me from my childhood. I spent most of my childhood hunched over Science Games, Toys and Science based discussions at home, striving to become an Engineer (which I now am as PhD) for which all the credit goes to Dayalbagh community. I love the outdoors – I’m an avid traveler and philosopher.  I really love playing and discussing with children because their questions generally don’t have limitations and boundaries. So, in a way, it helps me in explaining things in a simple way to them. My father is a Banker and my mother a homemaker. I have two younger brothers, one is an entrepreneur and the youngest one is a Lead Analyst in American Express.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my BSc in Electrical Engineering and MTech in Engineering (Power Systems) from Dayalbagh Educational Institute, Deemed University. I cleared UPTU (Uttar Pradesh Technical University), the AIEEE entrance exams for graduation and cleared GATE for my Post Graduation. I then completed my PhD (Energy Systems) from IIT Jodhpur.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

During my graduation (4 years) and post-graduation (2 years) i had the opportunity to undertake research fellowships at IIT Kanpur, IIT Roorkee and IISC Bangalore during M.Tech.

These research visits were planned by my supervisor on the basis of project requirements which involved training on Machine Learning at Artificial Intelligence Laboratory under Prof Behra at IIT Kanpur, a 20 day visit at IIT Roorkee to experience the  research culture in a premier institute and work with one of my seniors Dr. Rudra Rameshwar on Energy management. My visit to IISc Bangalore was my personal visit  to meet my graduation friend Mr. Vikash Anand (IES).

I realized that there is enormous potential for advancements in the current state of Power systems through further research and that there are so many interesting areas such as applications of Soft Computing and Data Science in Power systems, automation in power systems and indigenous solutions for power systems.

So, I chose Soft Computing applications in Power systems as my core research field and decided to pursue higher studies (Ph.D.) in that area.

My career path has been significantly influenced by the Dayalbagh Community because since my childhood, I was surrounded by highly educated and professionally groomed people along with my parents, who always motivated me to pursue higher education.

I am proud to mention 5 people who have always been mentoring me during different phases of my life such as: 

  • Childhood to till date – Prof. Prem Saran Satsangi
  • Graduation to Post Graduation- Prof. D. K. Chaturvedi
  • Doctoral Studies- Prof. B. Ravindra & Prof. Vivek Vijay
  • International Internship- Prof. Akhil Garg (Shantou University, China)

My research visits to IIT Kanpur, IIT Roorkee and IISc Bangalore during my M. Tech and International Internship at Shantou university, China played a key role in shaping my career..

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I was very much influenced by my cousins who were from a science background which led me to take up mathematics and science in my 10th and 12th. After my B.Sc. Engineering I realized that I needed to be serious about my future goals (high education) and get a good job. So, I was very keen on internships, short-term courses, workshops and fellowships after my graduation.

Hence, during my MTech, i visited 3 prestigious research institutes (IITK, IITR and IISc Bangalore). These experiences gave me enough confidence and clarity on my in future goals that enabled me to choose a career in applications of soft computing in Power Systems for my higher education. 

During these visits I learnt about the real meaning of research because discussions at IITs and IISc were like a seed for my future research, which later grew as a tree in the form of PhD. Because, during my MTech, I was working on Load forecasting using simple regression, but switched to fuzzy logic and neural networks after my visits and my MTech. My vision towards PhD became very clear when i decided to extend my research work in M.Tech. to the next level which was Solar Power Forecasting using Soft Computing (Advanced Neural Network Models). My work was on Load, Power and Energy Forecasting using Soft Computing. 

During this journey I was awarded 2 national research fellowships, one from the Ministry of Human Resources and development (MHRD), PhD fellowship in 2011 and Ministry of Power (MoP) Research Fellowship in 2013. 

My score of 93.8 percentile in GATE Electrical Engineering Examination helped me in getting the MHRD research fellowship.

In 2013, the Central Power Research Institute (Premier National body under Ministry of Power, Government of India) launched the Senior Research Fellowship Programme at national level for which I was nominated from my IIT and got selected for this programme at CPRI Bangalore. I worked full time as a Senior Research Fellow at CPRI Energy Efficiency and Research and Development (ERED) laboratory at Bangalore during 2013-2016. 

During the MoP research fellowship I was also associated with Central Power Research Institute (CPRI) Bangalore for three years (2013-2016). So, it was like Joint Research work with CPRI Bangalore and IIT Jodhpur. 

Solar Radiation Forecasting can help in solar power generation forecasting. Considering other weather parameters like temperature , wind velocity, cloud speed, humidity and irradiation as exogenous variables while generating forecasting models help in enhancing the accuracy of the forecast. We have conducted the study for different climatic zones like semi-arid, moderate and hot climatic regions of India. The outcome of this work helps to understand the impact of solar irradiation variability and different climate zones on solar power generation forecasting.

My PhD topic was “Solar Power Generation Forecasting using Neural Network based approach”. This work provides a thorough research in the solar power forecasting domain focusing on time series prediction using the neural network-based models for small scale (100 kW) and large scale(5MW) solar power plants. 

Several test cases were tested for Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) and Generalized Neural Networks (GNN) that were used to forecast plant power generation. In this case, data from PV (Photo Voltaic) power plants geographically separated from each other, and meteorological data from the area of Jodhpur and Gujarat were proposed as exogenous inputs for forecasting modelling. This allowed us to understand what parameters are more relevant to the forecast performance of a PV power plant. Every test case requires testing different architectures of Neural Networks and selecting the most optimized network. To analyse forecasting performance of the several test cases, different performance metrics like MSE, RMSE and R2 were used. 

During this time, I expanded my professional network with several researchers, professionals in my domain. This was also the motivation behind choosing my career in the Energy domain. I have done practical research on Energy forecasting using Soft computing (Neural Network based approach).

After submitting my PhD thesis i joined an ongoing project that I was working on during my Senior Research Fellowship in CPRI . At the same time I was also working with Shantou university just after submission of my PhD thesis as work from home where the Professor gave me a lot of assignments to perform and show my competency for China’ fellowship. Before i went to China I worked for about 6 months from India based on which my professor sent me the offer letter for International internship So, that’s how I got the chance to work with Shantou university.  

I went to Shantou University, Shantou, China as a Senior research fellow where I learnt industry-based research, which was a turning point in my career. Within 2 months I got an offer letter from Eaton Technologies as a Senior Research Engineer at Eaton Research Labs.

How did you get your first break? 

My first break was getting into IIT for my PhD. This helped me decide the appropriate plans for my future with the help of my mentors. So, I can say that to get your first break, proper guidance and mentorship is needed. This can help you in your personal as well as professional life. 

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: First challenge was leaving my comfort zone in my hometown and getting admission into IIT Jodhpur, because till post-graduation, I studied in Dayalbagh institutions.

Challenge 2: Second challenge was finding Research Fellowships to get hands on experience in a national lab like Central Power Research Institute.

Challenge 3: Third challenge was to keep calm and be patient during my PhD journey.  Especially thanks to my PhD supervisor’s Prof. B. Ravindra and Prof. Vivek Vijay for constant support, guidance and motivation.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your work

I work for a 100-year-old Power Management company called Eaton Technologies. I am associated with the Power System Technology division at Eaton Research Lab as a Senior Research Engineer. We build advanced Power Management Solutions for our Customers. My work is to develop and implement Load and Energy Forecasting algorithms for the distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) application, connecting to and managing all types of distributed energy resources (DERs). 

These days, perfection in the operation of power systems is an important aspect in the delivery of power. So, the ability to accurately predict Load (demand) and Energy using historical data is very important for Microgrid owners and Plant Operators so they can schedule and dispatch their power as per requirements and manage generation as per the load. In my work i extensively compare simple forecasting methodologies with more sophisticated ones like ANN, LSTM-RNN and hybrid forecasting models using historical datasets. Also, I try to evaluate the impact of weather conditions on forecasting accuracy.

How does your work benefit society? 

The Power management sector is one of the leading and important sectors that impact the process of monitoring, controlling and optimizing power consumption of organizations.  Energy consumption is important because it enables you to:

  • Reduce costs 
  • Reduce carbon emissions 
  • Reduce risk

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

During my internship at Shantou University, China, I developed two machine learning algorithms for a battery recycling process in which one algorithm is used for classification and categorization of similar kind of used Li-Ion cells to regroup  and make another battery pack from old Li-ion cells based on battery data under the “A Comprehensive Procedure for Design of Lithium-ion Battery Pack with Uniformity and Equalization criteria” project and the other algorithm for Crash analysis of lithium ion batteries using finite element based neural search analytical models. The best part was working with an international research group and experimentation-based research work for real life engineering problems.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I don’t want to give any specific advice because everyone has a different way of living their life. I have a few words which can help all students if they think and act according to their needs and priorities at that moment.

  • Love Yourself
  • Be a Good Person
  • Cope with Failure and Learn From Mistakes
  • Know the Keys to Success
  • Find Your Passion
  • Slow Down
  • Be a Lifelong Learner 
  • Listen
  • Ask Questions and Be Curious
  • Be Practical
  • READ, READ, and READ

Future Plans?

I think that in the future I will become a Professor (Ph.D. supervisor) or mentor of young minds to help them become future engineers.