Anupama Sitaraman

Computing Research to Advance an Equitable Energy Transition

Anupama Sitaraman ’24 uses computer science tools to explore pressing issues facing humanity, including combatting climate change and promoting sustainability.

Anupama Sitaraman ’24

Computer Science
Commonwealth Honors College

Amherst, MA 

What drew you to this field of study?

I was initially drawn to computer science through the UMass Turing Summer Program, which I was fortunate enough to participate in during the summer of my junior year of high school. The UMass Turing Summer Program was a new high school outreach program at the time, designed to introduce students to computer science, specifically in the areas of mobile health and computational sustainability. Before the program, I knew that I wanted to go into a field where I could potentially create a significant impact on society, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that would be. Through the Turing program, I saw the power of using computing to solve problems from all sorts of disciplines. I also saw how computer scientists could incorporate ideas from other fields to create innovative new technologies. I learned about the sustainability work at Professor Prashant Shenoy's Laboratory for Advanced System Software in the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences (MCICS), and I later had the opportunity to work in the lab as an undergraduate. I was also able to learn about how to do research through great experiences in the Early Research Scholars Program offered by MCICS, the SOLAR Lab, and as a Mickey Leland Energy Fellow in the National Energy Technology Lab of the U.S. Department of Energy.

How do you conduct your research?

My research involves using computer science techniques to explore ways to reduce carbon emissions in communities by replacing carbon-based energy with renewable energy. My most recent research project investigated the potential for reducing carbon emissions from residential heating in Holyoke, MA, by replacing gas heating that uses fossil fuels with heat pumps that could be powered by renewable energy from solar panels. To study this problem, I obtained gas and electric usage data from over 4,000 homes in Holyoke. I spent a lot of time thinking about strategies to configure solar panels, batteries, and heat pumps to eliminate the need for gas heating in these homes, and [I] conducted data analysis to create possible configurations for each home. Our main finding is that our strategies of combining heat pumps with solar panels and batteries are incredibly effective and can cut the carbon emissions due to home heating by at least half! Further, we showed that the cost of our solutions was modest, and their impact on the electric grid was also small.  

What do you see as the impact—or potential impact—of your work?

The primary goal of our work is to propose and validate strategies that make communities more sustainable and reduce carbon emissions. Many communities use energy systems that heavily involve fossil fuels for heating and power generation. Shifting these communities to systems that rely on renewable energy sources is hugely important for the mitigation of the effects of climate change and for the health of the environment around us.  

Another focus of our work is ensuring that the transition from fossil fuel-based energy systems to renewable energy systems is equitable. In the U.S., many low-income communities and communities of color bear the brunt of the cost of transitioning to renewable energy without reaping the benefits. My hope is that our work helps to make [the process of] transitioning communities from fossil fuels to renewable energy more equitable. It is vital that everyone benefits from renewable energy and that the costs of using renewable energy are equitably shared.  

I love that the world’s your oyster when it comes to research.

Anupama Sitaraman ’24

How does your faculty mentor support your research?

My faculty mentor, Professor Shenoy, has been amazing in helping me grow as a researcher. He has helped me develop ideas for research, and [he has] guided my research process and methodology. He also found opportunities for me to publish my research. Most of all, he supported me throughout the whole experience, giving me confidence in my abilities and encouraging me even through my failures. I greatly appreciate his help and guidance. Working in Professor Shenoy’s lab and learning from senior lab member Dr. Noman Bashir has been a great motivator for me to apply for graduate school.  

What do you find most exciting about conducting research?

I love that the world’s your oyster when it comes to research. Unlike school assignments, there aren’t any boundaries to the problems you can think about. Studying a specific subject doesn’t have to stop just because the unit ended or the scope of the class doesn’t cover anything more. With all of my research experiences, my mentors have helped me explore the topics and questions that matter to me and have helped me uncover new interesting problems to work on. I love the excitement of finding a new problem and being able to think [of] new and creative ways to solve it.  

What are you most proud of?

My proudest moment was presenting my honors thesis work at the IEEE International Green and Sustainable Computing Conference in the fall of 2023. It was so exciting to talk about my work, answer questions, and discuss research as a member of the computational sustainability research community. That experience has definitely made me look forward to continuing this sort of research.  

How has your research enhanced your overall educational experience at UMass?

A lot of my experience at UMass has been learning new topics and techniques in class, and then applying these same ideas and concepts in practice in a new research project. In fact, a project I am involved in heavily utilizes skills and knowledge introduced in one of the foundational computer science classes I took in my sophomore year. It’s been very exciting to see the concepts come to life in a research setting. 

What are your plans for the future?

In the near future, I hope to pursue a PhD and conduct research where I can apply computational tools to sustainability, health, and accessibility. Longer term, I hope to create technology that can contribute to solving the major problems facing humanity.  

Why would you recommend UMass to a friend?

I highly recommend UMass to anyone, especially for computer science. Whatever you’re looking for, we have it at UMass! I have friends here who have gone on to extremely lucrative careers as software developers and software engineers, and I also know many people who are pursuing graduate studies and are developing into successful researchers. At MCICS, we conduct a ton of research for the common good. The vast majority of our faculty are focused on using computing to solve the critical problems facing humanity and are leading the efforts towards making this progress. Because of this, our college is uniquely positioned to introduce students to using computing power to help the world, and I’m really glad that I got exposure to this use of computing this early in my career. I feel that graduates of UMass MCICS will be ready to tackle problems in the workplace or lab from a place of equity and justice. 

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