On Saturday, February 16, 2019, the Energy and Market Engineering Symposium in Honor of Shmuel Oren was held in the Heyns Room of The Faculty Club on the University of California, Berkeley campus. More than 70 people attended the symposium, which was organized by three of Shmuel’s former Ph.D. students: Ramteen Sioshansi (The Ohio State University), Afzal Siddiqui (University College London and Stockholm University), and Enzo Sauma (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile).
During the symposium, distinguished speakers highlighted Shmuel’s seminal contributions in diverse fields, such as uncertainty treatment, nonlinear pricing, computational equilibria, electricity pricing, and even behavioral operations. A number of speakers also highlighted ways in which their collaborations with Shmuel led to work and research in other areas.
The symposium was opened by Ramteen Sioshansi and Afzal Siddiqui, who welcomed the attendees, gave an overview of the day’s events, and offered some recollections regarding Shmuel’s warm collegiality and jovial nature toward even the most junior colleague in his field. An anecdote involving Gauß even came up in their introduction.
The first speaker of the day, Anthony Papavasiliou (Université catholique de Louvain), began by recounting his decision-making process between choosing to study at Berkeley with Shmuel or undertaking his Ph.D. on the east coast. He demonstrated how decision trees can be readily applied to such quandaries and how the expected value-maximizing choice was clearly to attend Berkeley (despite high probabilities of opening a souvlaki restaurant under either decision). Anthony then went into some of the technical contributions that he made during his Ph.D. studies with Shmuel and thereafter.
The second speaker, Adam Borison (Nathan Associates Inc.), is Shmuel’s first Ph.D. graduate (from back during the ‘dark years’ of Shmuel’s career when he was at a university that shall remain unnamed). Adam noted that many of the decomposition techniques that Anthony has been applying to power system optimization problems involving high penetrations of renewable energy were part and parcel of his own dissertation from nearly 40 years ago—some modeling and optimization techniques are clearly timeless. Adam also mentioned Shmuel’s mind working in a way that is clearly different to his own. Whereas most people stare at a page of equations and can’t make heads or tails of it, Shmuel looking at a page of equations comes to him as naturally as reading a page of flute music. An audience member quipped that this stems from matrix algebra being Shmuel’s first language (Hebrew and English are his second languages).
After a morning break, Wedad Elmaghraby (University of Maryland) discussed Shmuel’s contributions to behavioral operations. Another one of Shmuel’s former Ph.D. students, Wedad recounted a number of career and research takeaways that she gleaned from Shmuel. She then presented results of an experimental study to understand how human subjects perform in supply auctions when they have complex cost structures. Her results suggest that undergraduates do indeed have difficulty in internalizing complex cost structures in their supply offers. They also beg the question of what happened to the stereotypical “starving student,” as it was apparently difficult to recruit subjects for an experiment that provided an average of over $20 per hour of time in incentive payments.
Benjamin F. Hobbs (Johns Hopkins University) next provided an overview of Shmuel’s contributions to electricity market modeling and restructuring. This includes seminal contributions in how markets should be structured, how transmission should be accounted for in market models, and a number of other formative debates around market restructuring. As Ben put it, today we take for granted many market-design features that were not obvious in the 1990s and early 2000s when the details of market restructuring were not yet worked out. As a concrete example, the two-settlement systems that are used in many electricity markets today were not a settled design feature in the 1990s. Ben also highlighted a number of Shmuel’s students, including Jian Yao and Enzo Sauma, who were able to make significant advances in market modeling with Shmuel. One of the photos in Ben’s presentation also elicited a discussion of whether fatigue on one of Shmuel’s trips to Japan to provide market-design recommendations was due to jet lag or a late night of karaoke.
Following the lunch break, Robert Phillips (Nomis Solutions), another of Shmuel’s early Ph.D. graduates discussed parallels between his Ph.D. studies, which focused on developing network models with applications to energy, and airlines. Yet again, seemingly arcane work on mathematical programming has become indispensable to modern-day decision analysis through the advent of revenue management by airlines and car-rental agencies. Mirroring the stories of some other speakers, Bob recalled how the mathematical rigor instilled by Shmuel helped him to formalize an important component of his Ph.D. thesis by tackling generalized equilibrium modeling of the energy sector.
One of Shmuel’s long-standing collaborators and friends, Hung-po Chao (PJM Interconnection), opened his reminiscence by referring to the parable of the fox and the hedgehog. Typically, most problem solvers are either one or the other, i.e., at ease with either breadth or depth but not both. In fact, by probing deeply into both economics and power system engineering, Shmuel has exhibited the traits of both types of problem solvers, which is exceedingly rare. Hung-po cited Shmuel’s contributions to electricity market design, ranging from early work on product differentiation to more recent efforts dealing with risk management, as transformative. Pictures surfaced from both Tokyo (without any evidence of karaoke or jet lag) and Warsaw, where Shmuel’s influence has been evident in market design.
After a short break, the audience learned of Shmuel’s mentorship of Amy R. Wilson (Medical University of South Carolina). She recounted her journey as a Ph.D. student who changed her advisors in order to pursue her interests in bringing quantitative methods to bear on medical interventions. Although Shmuel was not active in healthcare analytics, he, nevertheless, took Amy on as a Ph.D. student and guided her through the decision modeling. Later on, Shmuel also gave Amy valuable career advice, which enabled her to forge her own unique trajectory. Indeed, healthcare analytics is now a mainstream application of OR, and Shmuel’s early support enabled Amy to place herself at its forefront by becoming the Director of the Value Institute at Medical University of South Carolina.
Robert Wilson (Stanford University) spoke about Shmuel’s contributions to the field of nonlinear pricing. Given the evolution of electricity markets and the need for handling uncertainty, risk management occupies an important place in market design. Echoing Hung-po’s sentiments, Bob described how he and Shmuel assessed the nature of risk and product differentiation in electricity markets and proposed mechanisms to align incentives in the unbundled paradigm. Again, Shmuel’s early work on priority contracting has proven prescient as it has become operationalized in an electricity industry that is relying increasingly on variable renewable energy.
The symposium was brought to a close by Enzo Sauma (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) and Alex Papalexopoulos (ECCO International). Enzo, a former Ph.D. student of Shmuel’s, summarized their joint work on transmission expansion, which is increasingly relevant, given the need to integrate dispersed renewable energy sources. He also shared some photos from Shmuel’s visits to Chile, which captured his adventurous spirit and wanderlust. Meanwhile, Alex added colorful quips about traveling with Shmuel and his penchant for not being deterred by the exotic food on offer in distant lands. On a more serious note, Alex echoed Hung-po and Bob Wilson in reflecting how Shmuel’s early work on nonlinear pricing has found a home in the smart grid of today. In fact, Alex is using product differentiation to commercialize the concept of load aggregation in his profession.
The symposium was followed by a banquet held at The Faculty Club of University of California, Berkeley, where colleagues, family, and friends celebrated the retirement of Shmuel Oren as a Professor of the Industrial Engineering & Operations Research (IEOR) Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Shmuel was presented with two retirement gifts. The first is a collection of exotic liquors from the far corners of the world where Shmuel has enjoyed traveling over the course his days. The second is a framed print of Shmuel’s mathematical genealogy (courtesy of David Braden’s industriousness). As has always been suspected, Shmuel has some Iranian ancestry dating back to the twelfth century. Rick Schwartz provided table decorations that matched the travel theme of the retirement gift. The evening was capped off with Shmuel taking a photo surrounded by twenty-one current and former Ph.D. students.