University College Dublin (IRELAND)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN20 Proceedings
Publication year: 2020
Pages: 113-120
ISBN: 978-84-09-17979-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2020.0071
Conference name: 12th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 6-7 July, 2020
Location: Online Conference
This paper originates from the observation that there exists a strict correlation between computer programming skills of graduate students and their ability to carry out high-quality research. This observation is based on the experience of the author in the supervision of master and PhD students enrolled in the electric power engineering programmes of two universities, University of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain, and University College Dublin, Ireland.

High-voltage power systems are large interconnected networks comprising hundreds or even thousands of lines, generators, loads and transformers. They are, effectively, country-wide or region-wide infrastructures and it is estimated that the cost of the current high-voltage transmission systems all around the world is several trillions of dollars. For this reason, the research on power systems has to rely on simulations and software tools. Recent developments of real-time simulators have led to the ability to include hardware in such simulations (hardware in the loop) but this is generally limited to very specific devices, such as meters or power electronics converters, being the rest of the grid simulated by a computer.

Software tools are thus essential for carrying out final projects and research on power systems. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of publications on this topic include a comprehensive case study where simulations results based on the steady-state or dynamic model of a grid are duly discussed and analysed. There exist, however, very few power system software tools that are considered standard de facto and all such tools are proprietary. The close nature of proprietary software tools makes complicated to add new features and impossible to inspect the code.

The first author has been developing in the last 20 years two software tools for power system analysis. The oldest one, implemented in Matlab, PSAT is free and open source, while the most recent, implemented in Python, is provided for free to all his students, postdocs, and collaborators. As a result, the source code of these tools can be inspected, modified and expanded and required. The only limitation being the computer skills of the user.

The utilization of these software tools with his research group and collaborators, has given the author the likely unique opportunity to observe, in a period of about 20 years, the correlation between the programming skills of the students and their academic and scientific proficiency. This correlation, as said above, appears to be extremely high. In other words, the more a student is able to modify the code and implement their own models and algorithms, the higher the quality of their case studies and publications. This correlation is not obvious per se as, as discussed above, the vast majority of students and researcher utilise a proprietary software and is clearly still able to carry out interesting case studies. Note also that the programming skills do not necessarily come together with outstanding mathematical or technical skills.

The final paper will investigate the reasons why good computer programming skills are particularly useful for power system analysis. This investigation is based on several real-world examples based from the students supervised by the author in his career.
Power system analysis, PhD programme, final project, computer programming, free and open source software.