Navigating Quantum Challenges: An Interview with Quantum Innovator Winner Dr. Corey O'Meara of E.ON
Quantum Computing Innovator of the Year Dr. Corey O’Meara shares the groundbreaking quantum initiatives by E.ON, which led to his and his team’s recognition at The AI Summit London 2023, from driving innovation in renewable energy grids to electric vehicle scheduling.
Congratulations on winning an AIconics Award at the 2023 edition of the AI Summit London! Could you shed further light on the projects which you’ve been a part of in the last year that have led to your recognition as a leading innovator in the space? And if possible, what’s next?
Thank you! It was an amazing experience attending The AI Summit London 2023 and I was completely humbled to win the AIconics award for Quantum Computing Innovator of the Year.
While I myself picked it up, I truly believe it reflects on our team and the impact our work is having both within the energy sector and across multiple industries where we are trying to set an example of an applied industry R&D team attempting to prove quantum utility in the real world.
The award was in recognition of E.ON’s multiple ongoing projects and German government co-funded research initiatives focusing on applying quantum computing as an enabler for the energy transition. For example, we are looking to optimize renewable energy usage in our electricity grids, increase flexibility as well as efficiently scheduling electric vehicle charging and discharging to act as local virtual power plants as opposed to using electricity provided by power plants located far away from the end consumer/household.
As for what’s next – we have recently won another German federal government grant for E.ON, called “Quantum Mission Planning Challenges (QMPC)”, where we will be working with the German Space Operation Center in developing quantum algorithms for scheduling. It turns out there are many similarities in scheduling electric vehicle charging/discharging and satellite data transmission scheduling. Under the hood they are similarly challenging mathematical problems and therefore by jointly solving these hard problems, both can benefit from their quantum algorithm solution methods.
Quantum computing holds immense promise for solving complex problems. In your opinion, what are the most promising practical applications of quantum computing in the near future?
Well, right now in industry, we and many others from various sectors are attempting to find challenging problems which push the limits of classical computing yet are within reach of the current or near-current quantum computing hardware – so-called “noisy” quantum computers. There are several quantum algorithms which can theoretically provide advantage (e.g. speedup) in solving certain problems but they require quantum computers far beyond what are available today.
Nonetheless, we believe there will be specific problems which over the next few years demonstrate practical advantage over their classical counterparts. One example we are investigating and seems to be quite challenging using classical computing is related to Peer-2-Peer (P2P) energy trading.
Specifically, if a set of houses has solar panels installed on their roofs and are equipped with smart electricity meters, we are looking for optimal ways to in real-time group the houses together to jointly offer their unused renewable electricity to neighbors nearby. It turns out, this problem is quite challenging to solve optimally even for small sets of houses and we are investigating this as part of our Q-GRID project which was awarded by the federal government of Germany.
Despite its potential, quantum computing is not without challenges. What do you see as the main hurdles in the current state of quantum computing?
I think the biggest challenge at the moment is dealing with the fact that current quantum hardware can only reliably execute algorithms which have low number of operations without having the information destroyed by noise. There are many clever approaches and startups popping up which work on ways to mitigate or suppress quantum errors, however, the field will need much more funding and research in order to use all physically available qubits on quantum processing chips.
Ethical and Security Implications: As quantum computing progresses, there are discussions about its potential impact on encryption and security. What are your thoughts on the ethical considerations and security implications of advancing quantum computing technologies? How can the quantum community proactively address these concerns to ensure responsible development and deployment?
With the rise of GenAI and recent talks about Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), ethics and security considerations should be at the forefront of all upcoming disruptive technologies. I believe openly discussing the potential ramifications of the existence of quantum computers needs to happen now before we get too far into the development and application process.
I believe initial responsibilities towards which use-cases quantum will be applied to lies on the quantum computer manufacturers and therefore I see them as the “gatekeepers” until more quantum computers are available. I know for example that IBM Quantum takes this very seriously and already have dedicated staff overseeing ethical considerations of using their devices - so I’m very happy to see the hardware community moving in this direction already.
Quantum computing often requires interdisciplinary collaboration - have collaborations with researchers contributed to the success of your quantum computing innovations?
Collaboration is at the heart of our quantum computing team! The field of applied quantum computing requires so much interdisciplinary knowledge it really requires an alliance to tackle the hard problems we are aiming for in the energy sector. Internally at E.ON we collaborate with our grid and customer solutions experts from different parts of the business which aren’t directly part of our quantum team.
Then externally, we also collaborate with professors in various disciplines such as electrical engineering, mathematics, and quantum computing from universities including Technical University of Munich, Oxford University, Technical University of Denmark, and University of Aachen. I actually believe events like the Quantum Computing Summit which is co-located with the AI Summit help foster these collaborations since it’s a great way to network and see which companies, research institutes, and universities are working on in terms of industry applications. It really helps to network and open doors in seeing which parts of the community are working on certain applied algorithms.