Did you ever wonder what mathematics has to do with saving the planet? Well a group in France has been working on things like “multi-objective and stochastic constraint programming” for optimising resource usage. This sounds very technical but a lot of the innovative solutions being looked at today will require smarter methods to make new environmental technologies work.
Maths helping save the planet
The group was created in 2009 as part of a public-private partnership between the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the École Polytechnique and Microsoft under the leadership of Youssef Hamadi of Microsoft Research and Philippe Baptiste of École Polytechnique and CNRS.
They met in Paris on 27 January for their 2nd anniversary and I was curious to discover the achievements of the researchers involved in this young partnership and I was not going to be disappointed. The partnership is not only very important to Microsoft because it fully contributes to the company’s commitment to advancing environmental sustainability and continues the engagement to support research in France already started through a partnership with INRIA, but also, as Xavier Michel, CEO of École Polytechnique stressed, such partnerships play a big role in supporting education and research while accelerating innovation.
Over the last two years, the research group has applied sophisticated mathematical and programming techniques to important societal problems such as the optimisation of transports, the reconciliation of the preferences of multiple organisations involved in land and agricultural policies or the implementation of new algorithms for the management of energy usage in buildings (which represents 32% of the global energy use!
But for me, one of the highlights of these two years was to win an international competition set by EDF. EDF is the world’s largest utility company. Most of the electricity EDF generates in France is produced by thermal power plants, mostly nuclear. Many of the plants have to be shut down for routine refuelling and maintenance. The planning of these outages is extremely complex and has to meet safety, maintenance, logistics and plant operation requirements at minimum cost.
The challenge was to resolve the underlying mathematical problem of this scheduling. This type of open innovation is a way for EDF to augment their own research by involving the best experts in the field. Although the goal of the challenge was not to bring a ready-to-use solution, it brought new inside for EDF to improve the planning problem whose optimisation is strategic to the company. Overall, 44 academic teams coming from 23 countries competed.
Congratulation to the team!