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Wireless Tower Site Optimization
ACCESSION NO: 0217794 SUBFILE: CRIS
PROJ NO: WYOK-2009-00351 AGENCY: NIFA WYOK
PROJ TYPE: SMALL BUSINESS GRANT PROJ STATUS: TERMINATED
CONTRACT/GRANT/AGREEMENT NO: 2009-33610-19677 PROPOSAL NO: 2009-00351
START: 01 JUN 2009 TERM: 31 JAN 2010 GRANT YR: 2009
GRANT AMT: $79,690

INVESTIGATOR: CARVEY, C.

PERFORMING INSTITUTION:
CRILE CARVEY CONSULTING, INC.
2187 HWY. 34
WHEATLAND, WYOMING 82201

Wyoming Technology Business Center

1938 Harney St., Laramie, WY 82072 

RURAL WIRELESS NETWORK TOWER SITE LOCATION AND OPTIMIZATION USING WEB-BASED CONSTRAINED OPTIMIZATION TECHNIQUES

NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Increased telecommuting, innovations and inventions coming from small, often remotely located businesses and individuals, modern agricultural technologies, and the advanced data communication demands of emergency responders have accelerated the need for reliable Internet service in rural America. This project proposes to develop a viable, flexible, and affordable means to extend reliable internet service to rural Americans. Streamlining the optimal placement of antenna/radio clusters (factoring in data-dense constraints such as property ownership, radio capabilities, complex topography, backbone access points and build-out expense), into network plans of low-cost, fixed-site, wireless relay stations could pave the way for high data rate coverage to much of this underserved population. The solution proposed here will determine the feasibility of applying mathematical techniques (adapted from economics research) to topographical and property ownership data, within the context of a user-friendly web site, to suggest mathematically optimal network plans.

OBJECTIVES: The successful system will consist of a group of software algorithms that use mathematical and statistical techniques to analyze large data sets (including property ownership, property boundaries, topography, and existing internet access points) to produce optimized meshes of coordinated towers. The results will be delivered through a web portal accessible to enrolled community planners and entrepreneurs. The web site will gather information, exercise the algorithms and generate suggested networks to facilitate collaborative efforts by installers, landowners, and government stakeholders. The project will be divided into three parts. Task Area One will develop algorithms and codes which will derive candidate network meshes consisting of sets of three-dimensional coordinates (consisting of latitude, longitude and elevation). Each coordinate will represent a suggested location for a radio tower. Task Area Two will result in a comprehensive database suitable for entry into the computation engine of Task Area One. The final task area will result in a web-based software program that allows the user to select a subset of the geographical region for which we have gathered data, select any group of property owners who own property within that region, enter radio transmission characteristics, click a "calculate" button, and view sets of solutions.

APPROACH: The primary technical objective is to demonstrate that we can use Constrained Optimization to develop a software algorithm that can effectively produce useful tower-placement locations based on a selected geographical region, a selected set of private property boundaries, and a given line-of-sight coverage distance. (Constrained Optimization attempts to solve a complex problem by breaking it into smaller, more manageable challenges that can then be more easily evaluated and used in an iterative process to solve the larger problem.) For example, the algorithm would output a set of GIS coordinates where 12 towers could be placed in Converse County, Wyoming to provide optimal coverage, assuming landowners Smith, Jones, and Brown have given permission to erect towers on their property.The ultimate objective for this project is to develop methods and products that drive a new business model and deliver enhanced, low cost wireless broadband networks to Rural America."Can the necessary variables be identified and analyzed to result in a formula that can be accurately and meaningfully displayed on a website" Answering this question is our Phase I goal. And, while Phase I research will be fully focused on determining the feasibility of the software, if it is feasible, the software that results from this determination will provide a solid starting point for Phases II and III. This will allow Phase II and Phase III research to concentrate on the implementation of the social and physical aspects of the project.

PROGRESS: 2009/06 TO 2010/01
OUTPUTS: The objective of this Phase I SBIR project was to demonstrate the feasibility of developing a mathematically sound software algorithm, based on Constrained Optimization (CO), which would accurately suggest tower locations for networks of wireless radios within a given geographical region, using specified radio characteristics and property ownership constraints. A secondary goal was to make that algorithm accessible and useful to inexperienced users from a website. We accomplished these goals by breaking the project into three major task areas: 1) algorithmic development, 2) data gathering and normalization, and 3) integration and user interface (UI) development. Dr. David Aadland of the University of Wyoming Economics Department successfully developed and tested the Constrained Optimization algorithm using Gauss and Wolfram Mathematica, first on sample data and then on data which was successfully compiled during the data gathering phase of the project. The data gathering and normalization tasks were the responsibility of Principal Investigator (PI) Crile Carvey, who utilized the original subset of data provided by the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center and Albany County, WY to develop a test database with enough detail and variety to test the "edge cases" of the solution. These data were then processed through the CO algorithm for validation. The Mathematica version of the algorithm successfully processed the data and generated sets of tower locations and topographical displays. Progressing to the third task area, the PI developed software routines to feed parameters into, and retrieve results from, the Mathematica "engine". The PI also investigated other methods of performing the CO algorithm by translating it into the C# programming language. Finally, moving into the UI development aspect of the project, the PI evaluated several candidate UI architectures and developed a Silverlight-based implementation that leverages Bing maps to collect user input and display output tower locations (as calculated by the algorithm) on an interactive map. This implementation was published to a prototype website for evaluation. We plan to make this prototype website publicly accessible in the next phase of this project. PI Carvey is involved in preliminary commercialization discussions with Microsoft and Wolfram, and has documented alternative solutions for bringing the finished product to market. PI Carvey will submit a workshop abstract at the "GIS in the Rockies" Conference in September, 2010 and will also present a Poster Session at the conference on this research. PARTICIPANTS: Crile Carvey was the Principal Investigator, responsible for data acquisition, data normalization, User Interface Design and Implementation, and Project Management. David Aadland, PhD, was responsible for the development of the Constrained Optimization algorithm. TARGET AUDIENCES: Not relevant to this project. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Nothing significant to report during this reporting period.

IMPACT: 2009/06 TO 2010/01
Through this research, we have learned that it is feasible to use a Constrained Optimization (CO) algorithm to generate an optimal set of tower sites across a given geographical region. This makes us confident that a further Phase II will result in a useful software tool to assist with the building out of Rural America's broadband infrastructure. We have found that academically-oriented software tools such as Mathematica are capable of solving our optimization problem, but perform poorly but given large data sets. We have found that Microsoft's Silverlight and Solver products are appropriate software tools with which to develop a commercial product based on the results of our research, and believe that moving the CO calculation to a simpler .NET based calculation engine will mitigate the performance issues. As a result of interacting with rural residents that we came into contact with during the course of our research, we learned not to take anything for granted with regards to public perception of broadband issues. People who have adequate broadband connectivity generally assume that everyone with an email address is equally able to download bandwidth-intensive documents, stream music and watch video. Similarly, those who have poor Internet capacity (satellite, dial-up, or none at all), can be either unaware of, or dismissive of things that they are unable to do online due to their inferior or non-existent connections. We learned that it helps to "show and tell" what broadband offers when talking to people who have been without it. Many rural residents who are employed in urban areas are aware of what they're missing without broadband, but those without non-rural computer access are unaware of specific things they could do with broadband. Those with broadband access "in town" were skeptical that they'd ever be able to participate fully from their rural home computer. Even more striking was to discover the divide between smartphone users and those who cannot use advanced cell phone features due to limited connectivity. In the course of Phase I, we became aware of the potential impact our product could make on wireless cell phone coverage across rural America, simultaneous to its impact on Internet broadband. What our product will be able to do for broadband Internet connectivity, it will also do to enhance wireless cell phone capabilities for those who do not currently have it because of distance from a line-of-sight signal. Indeed, the two media are converging as people use cell phones for data access and use Internet connections for voice. From a practical viewpoint, a cell tower just uses a different kind of radio.

PUBLICATIONS (not previously reported): 2009/06 TO 2010/01
No publications reported this period

PROJECT CONTACT:

Name: Carvey, C.
Phone: 307-200-4510
Fax: 866-323-6464
Email: crile@crile.com
Email: crile@otratech.com
Wind Turbine Site Analysis
ACCESSION NO: 0221756 SUBFILE: CRIS
PROJ NO: WYOK-2010-00412 AGENCY: NIFA WYOK
PROJ TYPE: SMALL BUSINESS GRANT PROJ STATUS: NEW
CONTRACT/GRANT/AGREEMENT NO: 2010-33610-20818 PROPOSAL NO: 2010-00412
START: 01 AUG 2010 TERM: 31 MAR 2011 GRANT YR: 2010
GRANT AMT: $89,985

INVESTIGATOR: Carvey, C.

PERFORMING INSTITUTION:
CRILE CARVEY CONSULTING, INC.
2187 HWY. 34
WHEATLAND, WYOMING 82201

Wyoming Technology Business Center

1938 Harney St, Laramie, WY 82072 

INTEGRATED ANALYTICAL VISUALIZATION AND DECISION SUPPORT SOFTWARE FOR THE OPTIMAL PLACEMENT OF SMALL WIND TURBINES BY RURAL RESIDENTS AND COMMUNITIES.

NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Improved materials, innovative/cost-lowering manufacturing, and federal and state incentives guarantee that "small wind" turbines will play an important role in meeting government goals for promoting renewable energy. "Small wind" turbines, defined as having <100 kW capacity, can potentially supply 50-90% of the power for a rural residence or impressively augment the power needs of a rural agricultural or manufacturing business. However, determining optimal turbine placement and site design is complex, yet critical for success. Existing site selection methods consist of a mish-mash of inefficient, imprecise, and uncoordinated "checklists," or highly technological programs geared for large wind farm developers, requiring too much computing power, engineering expertise, and budget for the average rural small wind developer. Small wind projects encounter challenges and objections regarding visual, aural, property value, environmental, regulatory, wildlife, habitat, viewshed and "not-in-my-backyard" issues. And overriding all of these is the financial question: how long will this take to pay for itself The overall goal of this multi-phase SBIR project is to develop, validate, and commercialize novel software that will eliminate the problems with current practices by providing an automated, next-generation method of guiding small wind developers as they weigh multiple and often conflicting variables to come up with an optimal rural turbine placement. These decisions involve "informed trade-offs," but they are not compromises; poorly placed turbines are a disappointment to owners and neighbors alike, a terrible advertisement for the wind energy industry, and an inefficient attempt to solve the nation's growing energy needs.

OBJECTIVES: The goal of the proposed small wind power site selection software product is to enable rural Americans to determine and evaluate the realities of including wind power as part of their home or business energy strategy. The proposed research will make complex calculations simple and useable, resulting in a tool that features an innovative and visually rich user interface backed by a comprehensive optimization engine. The Phase I project goal is to prove the feasibility of creating decision support software to analyze risks and benefits, provide break-even timetables, balance the interests of owners, neighbors, wind resources, regulators and topography, and visually display optimal site designs. The completed software will gather and balance competing variables (environmental, regulatory, transmission, visual impact and others), and derive site solutions that maximize the energy output of a given turbine site, while minimizing costs. The software application will be visually rich, interactive, and accessible, allowing small wind developers to make more fully informed decisions regarding the placement of turbines. Our objectives include outreach to potential partners and collaborators, including local government, small wind cooperatives, and established hardware (small wind turbine) manufacturers who could positively impact rural landowners investigating the inclusion of small wind as part of a renewable energy plan.

APPROACH: The primary objective of the proposed research is to develop a software tool that can effectively generate small wind turbine installation plans based on a selected set of property boundaries, topography, energy needs, neighborhood "lifestyle" factors, turbine characteristics, regulatory requirements, environmental concerns, and wind characteristics, within given economic constraints (based on capital returns, projected energy costs, and acceptable payback timeframes). The proposed tool will compare configurations and recommend optimal placements - including the size, number, and model of wind turbines - to maximize net present value (NPV). In the process, the tool will provide sensitivity analyses for a wide variety of variables, including turbine and installation costs, wind speeds, financing rates, energy prices, fuel prices, carbon emission limits, and carbon taxes. There are two key components to the system: a comprehensive algorithm that solves the multivariate problem, and a user interface that makes that algorithm accessible. We will leverage proven algorithms developed by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) for the analysis component, and develop custom software for the user interface component. "Knowing your users" is critical to developing a useful user interface. In our case, the users will be rural residents who want to save money on energy bills or develop sources of power for their small agricultural or manufacturing efforts. They are not likely to be renewable energy enthusiasts, computer hobbyists, scientists or engineers. Success requires that users be able to utilize the tool without extensive training, and results must be intuitively visualized. It will not be adequate to show windmills as pushpin symbols on a map, or to show payback terms as cells in a spreadsheet. Beginning with 3-dimensional map representations, we will explore various means of presenting the results as colors, charts, and graphs. Depicting the results of break-even analyses graphically will encourage users to seek out cost-effective renewable energy siting solutions. We will develop proprietary technology to enhance the interface, as well as including outputs such as NPV, capacity factor, gross annual output, net metering sales, available incentives, and a variety of other economic results. The research must prove feasibility in two critical areas: 1) Is it possible to automatically build a reasonable set of siting solutions from a matrix of complex variables 2) Is it possible to present the results in a way that encourages rural energy consumers to install wind systems appropriate to their personal needs, goals and realities As a small business in rural Wyoming, we are uniquely placed to engage and interact with our desired audience. The software will be tested and validated with the assistance of our enrolled partners, including small wind developer cooperatives, renewable energy installers, state and local government wind committees and regulators, and small turbine manufacturers.

PROJECT CONTACT:

Name: Carvey, C.
Phone: 307-200-4510
Email: crile@crile.com
URL: http://siteselector.crile.com
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