We’ve had a busy period of conference deadlines in RSRG over the last few months…between ACM EC (Algorithmic Game Theory), IEEE CDC (Control), and IFIP Performance (Sigmetrics’ European sister conference), it’s been a challenging period to try to get everything ready for submission. But, the students have been working really hard, and we’re almost through it!
We have another week before the Performance deadline, so we’re still cramming to get the last few things written up. But, as I’m working on those papers, it got me thinking about the fact that Performance really flies under the radar in the US. For some reason, people don’t know it the way they know Sigmetrics, even though the two are closely tied. So, I figured I’d give it a little advertisement here, since it’s a really nice venue for people that do work on the boundary of systems/networks and theory. It’s also the place where I gave my first conference talk… in a beautiful marble-floored conference hall overlooking vineyards outside of Rome!
Something that is often lost in the discussion of energy efficiency and conservation is the fact that energy usage is not a bad thing at all. Of course, it is reasonable to worry about the sustainability of our current energy economy and to try to diversify our energy sources to improve the robustness of our energy supply. But, when one thinks about such issues, it is important to remember that energy usage is crucial to our quality of life, and not just superficial comforts…
However, the connection between energy consumption and measures of quality of life is not an easy one to tease apart. I’ll try to at least provide some fodder to make you think about it here, though…
One of the fun parts of Sigmetrics is all the interesting workshops and tutorials that surround the conference. These really help to create communities around some of the sub-disciplines in the field, and often attract lots of new folks into the area.
For example, for the past few years, there have been three consistent workshops on the menu — Greenmetrics, which focuses on energy issues, WPIN/NetEcon, which focus on network economics, and MAMA, which focuses on the mathematical side of performance analysis. You see the reflection of this consistency in the program and the main Sigmetrics conference, which has increasingly large sets of papers in each of these areas.
One of the challenges of renewable integration that often goes undiscussed are the “death spirals” that are associated with adoption. We’ve been thinking a lot about these issues at Caltech over the past few years…
Two motivating stories
To highlight what we mean by a “death spiral”, let us first consider an example of consumers in Southern California who use a lot of power from the power grid. They clearly have an incentive to install rooftop solar since the price you pay for each incremental kilowatt-hour you consume increases with the total amount that you consume. That means that if you consume less you fall into a lower tier in which the price of the next kilowatt hour you consume is low; whereas if you consume a lot, the corresponding price you pay is high. This convex price structure is an incentive for high consumers to reduce consumption; it is also, however, an incentive for installing rooftop solar so that the consumer’s net consumption falls into a low tier.
But what are the consequences of the fact that incentives for adoption are much stronger for high consumers?
Last week, I had the pleasure of giving a talk at a workshop for the new Initiative for Mathematical Sciences and Engineering at UIUC. It was a very interesting visit, especially given the similar perspective of the initiative to the Computing and Mathematical Sciences PhD program that we are starting next year at Caltech. I really enjoyed getting some perspective on the challenges they’ve faced with such a broad interdisciplinary program…
We’re now well into the last third of my Networks course, which focuses on the interaction of economics and networks. We talk about a lot of different topics, but one that the students really seem to enjoy is ad auctions, which tends to take up the last three or four lectures of the class — and also serves as the context for our last competition / mini-project: clickmaniac.