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Out West student blog

Summer in Sacramento

Yiyuan Zhang at the California Department of Water Resources in Sacramento.

By Yiyuan Zhang
Masters Degree in CEE, expecting to graduate in 2018
Intern at the California Department of Water Resources

The State Water Project (SWP) in California is a network of reservoirs, dams, and aqueducts that serves drinking water to two thirds of California’s residents, irrigates over 750,000 acres of farmland, and contributes more than $400 billion of the statewide economy. It is the largest state-financed water project ever built. It captures water that originates from the high country of Plumas and Sierra County and runs towards the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The SWP captures a small share of that water and delivers it through more than 700 miles of pipelines and canals for use throughout the state. I feel lucky to be an intern at the California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) this summer and am excited to contribute to this amazing project by developing optimized operations strategies.

SWP is also the state’s single largest user of power. This infrastructure includes the world’s tallest earth-filled dam (at Oroville) and the highest single lift pumping plant (close to 2,000 feet), which is used to move water over the Tehachapi Mountains into southern California. At the same time, SWP is the state’s fourth largest generator of electricity. My task during my internship is to analyze SWP’s future water delivery scenarios and power operations to optimize state-wide benefits and reduce costs. It is quite essential to closely follow energy market drivers to develop efficient and cost effective strategies.

I used to believe that the knowledge I obtained at Stanford was purely theoretical. But as I gained deeper insight into the project, I found it to be absolutely practical. As I get to know the project in detail, I realize that CDWR has also conducted evergreen, progressive processes to support water supply operations. Renewable energy facilities such as photovoltaic solar panels have been installed to help meet the SWP’s energy needs. Under the Renewable Energy Procurement Plan, CDWR will procure an increasing amount of renewable energy from a variety of sources through a competitive bidding process. My mentor, Dr. Ghassan AlQaser, is leading projects that focus on cost-effective power portfolios. My portion of this work is focused on optimization. I am making assessments of any operational flexibility in utilizing the aqueduct that will consider potential changes in operations driven by aqueduct flow rates, energy costs, hydrologic conditions, climate change, legislative costs, regulatory changes, and CAISO market rules. By changing patterns in pump and generation operations in addition to applying more clean and renewable energy supplies, we can reduce SWP expenses and reduce SWP’s impact on the environment at the same time. It turns out that cost savings could be huge if we applied proper scheduling method.

I used to believe that the knowledge I obtained at Stanford was purely theoretical. But as I gained deeper insight into the project, I found it to be absolutely practical. In using the Energy Book System software, I got a chance to apply exactly what I have learned from electrical engineering classes. It hasn’t been long since I started my project, but I have already been impressed by the developer’s tools and Visual Basic Applications for Excel. In the past I just regarded Excel as container for data, until recently I was amazed by all of its functionality and how skilled my colleagues are in it. I know I still have a long way to go in the summer to accomplish my objectives. However, it also makes me excited to know I will learn a lot throughout the summer.

Read more at the Out West Student Blog »

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