Duke students’ Bass Connections research on energy access and data analytics comes together in a final energy presentation on synthetic imagery used to improve automated wind turbine detection in satellite imagery, especially when applied to diverse locations.
Efforts to ensure energy access across the globe are often hampered by a lack of critical information to guide decision-making and electricity system planning. Information on village-level electricity access and reliability, as well as the location and characteristics of power system infrastructure, is especially scarce. Decision-makers require this information to determine the optimal strategies for deploying energy resources, like where to prioritize development and whether electrification should be accomplished through grid expansion, micro-grids, or distributed generation.
During the 2020-2021 school year, a Bass Connections research team at Duke University aimed to develop deep learning techniques that can automatically and rapidly scan massive volumes of remotely sensed data, such as satellite imagery, to develop detailed maps of energy infrastructure. These deep learning approaches may provide powerful tools for researchers, policy-makers, and governments to collect energy systems information. This video captures the Bass Connections team’s end-of-year presentation in April 2021.
The team used machine learning to create a model that detected wind turbines solely from satellite imagery by training it first with real images of turbines. Since these images are scarce and in practice the machine learning techniques need to be applied to different locations than from where the training data are available, this approach was compared to data resulting from a model which also was trained on synthetic images of wind turbines. Synthetic images, while they might look real to the machine, are generated images and are not genuine photos. Feeding the model synthetic images of wind turbines increased the accuracy or “average precision” of the predicted turbine location.
Bass Connections is a unique Duke University program that brings together faculty, postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates, and external partners to tackle complex societal challenges in interdisciplinary research teams.
Student Team Members: Ada Ye (T'23), Jessie Ou (T'22), Wendy Zhang (T'21), Eddy Lin (T'22), Tyler Feldman (T'23), and Jose Moscoso (MIDS '21)
Faculty Team Leaders: Kyle Bradbury (Pratt School of Engineering and Managing Director of the Energy Data Analytics Lab at the Duke University Energy Initiative) and Jordan Malof (Pratt School of Engineering)
Learn more about the project:
Curious about careers related to energy access and energy transitions in low- and middle-income countries? Check out this career talks session, which focuses on opportunities in governmental agencies and development banks.
This is the second of two virtual career talks organized by the Energy Access Project at Duke University and the Duke University Energy Initiative in February 2021. Duke students from diverse undergraduate and graduate degree programs learned from professionals about their organizations, roles, energy career journeys, and advice. The webinar was moderated by Victoria Plutshack, Policy Associate at the Energy Access Project.
Sam Kwon: Practice Lead Senior Director, Energy, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)
Sam Kwon explains the goal and composition of the MCC, a U.S. government agency with a public-private board, and describes the skill sets of professionals on the MCC energy team. To illustrate the day-to-day work of his team, he offers examples of current issues with projects in Nepal and Ghana. Kwon, a graduate of Georgetown Law, also describes his professional journey in development finance.
Dia Martin: Managing Director, U.S. International Development Finance Corp. (IDF)
Dia Martin offers background on IDF, a U.S. government agency and a development finance institution that operates in 100+ countries. She describes her work as a managing director on the social enterprise finance team in IDF’s Office of Development Credit, where she manages a diverse impact investing portfolio that includes energy projects. Martin outlines a typical workday and shares a success story: a $5M loan that helped propel a small company called GreenLight Planet to secure nearly $100M in financing.
Natacha Marzolf: Principal Development Bank-Energy, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
Natacha Marzolf explains the structure and scope of IDB, as well as the makeup of the energy division, where she works. She offers an overview of IDB’s energy portfolio; explains the four-pillar framework that guides IDB’s work (access, sustainability, security, and governance); emphasizes the importance of knowledge-sharing; and describes initiatives related to regional integration, gender diversity in the energy sector, and innovation. A native of France and a graduate of Harvard Law, Marzolf has worked for IDB for about 25 years, and she describes her trajectory within the institution.
Alisha Pinto (MPP'16): Energy Specialist, World Bank
Alisha Pinto outlines her career journey from Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, where she graduated with a master’s degree in public policy, to her current role as an energy specialist within the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) at the World Bank. ESMAP is one of the custodians for U.N. Sustainable Development Goal Seven (“access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy”). Pinto explains how ESMAP fits into the World Bank framework. She describes her role in advancing the newly formed Clean Cooking Fund, a $500M fund meant to catalyze and accelerate access toward clean cooking.
In fall 2019, nine Latin American and Caribbean countries announced a collective target of 70 percent renewable energy use by 2030 (more than double the percentage of the European Union’s commitment). Latin America is known for its oil and gas deposits, but that hasn’t stopped the region from developing one of the world’s most formidable renewable energy sectors.
At this June 2020 event organized by the Duke University Energy Initiative and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Duke, three experts on Latin American energy policy analyzed key lessons from the region’s renewable energy experiments.
Dr. Christine Folch talked about the development (and future) of the Itaipu Dam, the world’s single largest renewable energy producer and the subject of her recent book recent book Hydropolitics: The Itaipu Dam, Sovereignty, and the Engineering of Modern South America (Princeton University Press, 2019). Dr. Stephanie Friede examined wind energy development in Southern Mexico, and Odette Rouvet identified factors that have helped shape renewable energy policy in Latin America and outlined the opportunities and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Panelists emphasized the importance of integrating socio-political inquiry and analysis when assessing the feasibility of renewable energy projects or making decisions about project management. In many cases, the experts noted, the social, economic, and political context of a project is even more complex than the physics that makes its engineering possible—and is no less critical to its ultimate success.
Christine Folch serves as assistant professor of cultural anthropology and holds a secondary appointment as assistant professor of environmental science and policy at Duke University. She received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the City University of New York and her B.A. in history (cum laude) from Harvard College. Prior to teaching at Duke, Folch served on the faculty of Wheaton College (Illinois). Her first book, Hydropolitics: The Itaipu Dam, Sovereignty, and the Engineering of Modern South America (Princeton University Press, 2019), is an in-depth look at the people and institutions connected with the Itaipu Dam, the world’s biggest producer of renewable energy on the Paraná River border of Brazil and Paraguay. Folch has written extensively on water, energy, and sovereignty in South America, as well as cuisine and culture. Her current research projects include how U.S. evangelicals “care for creation” and respond to environmental devastation as an act of faith and a cultural history of yerba mate, a popular South American stimulating drink.
Stephanie Friede (PhD ’18) is a cultural anthropologist currently working as a teacher-scholar postdoctoral fellow in the Wake Forest University Department of Engineering. Her scholarship and teaching are located at the intersection of science and technology studies, environmental humanities, and the politics of energy and infrastructure development in Latin America. In her book manuscript, "Atmospheric Pressure: An Ethnography of Wind, Turbines, and Zapotec Life in Southern Mexico,” Friede explores the politics of renewable energy in Southern Mexico, which have led to huge profits for some, largely at the expense of Oaxaca’s indigenous Zapotec peoples. Her research seeks to complicate narratives promising technological fixes alone can solve the complex problems emerging from the burning of fossil fuels. Friede's work is motivated by the conviction that long-term interdisciplinary research can help the world address global climate change. She received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Duke University in May 2018.
Odette Rouvet (MIDP ’18) is a Paris-based public policy specialist on energy, environment, and climate change issues. A Mexican born in Cancun, Rouvet has spent much of the last decade working on environmental issues in Latin America and the Caribbean through positions in government, nongovernmental organizations, and as a private sector consultant. Rouvet earned a master’s degree in international development from the Duke Center for International Development at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. As a Duke student, she was an International Rotary Peace Fellow, developing skills in conflict analysis, negotiation, and mediation. She also collaborated with Dr. Christine Folch (Cultural Anthropology) on research concerning the Itaipu Dam in Paraguay and Brazil, including opportunities and challenges for regional collaboration on energy, sustainability, development, and climate change issues. Rouvet earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México.
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The Duke Energy Access Project brings students, faculty and researchers together to address energy issues in the developing world. In 2018-2019, Duke faculty and students developed a series of pilot projects in Zambia, investigating the off-grid electricity market and improving system planning. Learn more about this work--funded by Duke's Bass Connections program--by exploring project documents, watching a student-produced video, and listening to a special episode of Duke's Policy 360 podcast.