This is a practical problem in energy generation with heliostats.

We have a number of heliostats basically forming the shape of a doughnut. The facility needs to deploy hubs on those heliostats. One hub can support 12 harnesses (a kind of cable) and one harness can support 16 heliostats; namely, one hub can support 192 heliostats. The cost of deploying a hub and harness per meter are given. In other words, every harness starts from a hub and can connecting at most 16 heliostats. Deployment of a hub results in a cost. Also, the cost of harnesses result from its distance from the hub to the furthest heliostat on this harness. However, there is no distance from heliostats to its connecting harness.

Currently my approach is to use k-means to cluster the whole region and run greedy on distance from harness for each split region, though I do not think this is a good approach.

enter image description here

This is a pattern generated by my algorithm. As you can see, some harness only support 1 or 2 heliostats and result in a waste of harness.

Our job is to optimize the cost. In the end, the algorithm should return locations of hubs, harness topology patterns, and the total cost.

Can anyone enlighten me potential algorithms on this?

(Every point on the image is a heliostat, there are 40981 in totalenter image description here)

----------- Updated 14/12/2016 -----------

More details on the question, thanks D.W's suggestion:

  1. Coordinates of heliostats are given. These coordinates correspond to real-world metrics (meters).

  2. The placement of hubs are not constrained. However, one harness cannot be longer than 45 meters due to voltage requirement.

----------- Updated 15/12/2016 -----------

  1. The classification on "furthest" in "the cost of harnesses result from its distance from the hub to the furthest heliostat on this harness": Furthest is in the sense of "last", not "furthest" in the sense of "having the largest Euclidean distance from the hub"
  • $\begingroup$ See cs.stackexchange.com/q/67403/755 for an attempt to abstractly formulate part of the problem: if for each heliostat we were told which hub it will be connected to, then that question looks at the problem of how to wire up the harnesses. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Dec 14 '16 at 10:18
  • $\begingroup$ "the cost of harnesses result from its distance from the hub to the furthest heliostat on this harness" -- please clarify that you mean "furthest" in the sense of "last", not "furthest" in the sense of "having the largest Euclidean distance from the hub". $\endgroup$ – j_random_hacker Dec 14 '16 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ "some harness only support 1 or 2 heliostats and result in a waste of harness" -- if you are trying to minimise the total cost, then for any fixed number of hubs, it doesn't matter how the harnesses are distributed, just their total length. So, e.g., a 10-hub solution in which 5 hubs use 12 harnesses each of length 15 and the other 5 hubs use 2 harnesses each of length 1 has the same cost as a 10-hub solution in which every hub uses 10 harnesses each of length 9 and 1 harness of length 10. Please confirm this is what you meant. $\endgroup$ – j_random_hacker Dec 14 '16 at 15:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hi @j_random_hacker! Yes, "furthest" means "last", not "having the largest Euclidean distance from the hub". However, in the second part of your comment, I got the cost of 910 for the first 10 hubs yet 1000 for the second 10 hubs. If for the first 10-hub, the other 5 hubs use 2 harnesses each of length 10, I believe the two 10-hub solutions are of the same cost - they are both 1000. $\endgroup$ – Zhenyue Qin Dec 14 '16 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the update. And you're right about my second example -- I meant to write "10 harnesses each of length 9 and 1 harness of length 1" instead. $\endgroup$ – j_random_hacker Dec 15 '16 at 13:12

The problem looks messy, so there probably isn't a clean algorithm to produce a globally optimal solution. Instead, I suggest you use some combination of heuristics to try to find a nearly-optimal solution in a reasonable amount of time, perhaps by iteratively making small incremental improvements.

Any candidate solution is comprised of three elements:

  • Location of the hubs.

  • Assignment of each heliostat to a hub.

  • Routing of the harnesses.

One way to make an incremental improvement is to repeatedly fix two of these three and optimize the other (holding the other two fixed), and rotate through which one you change. You seem to have a reasonable strategy to obtain an initial candidate solution, and you could iterate from there. I'll sketch in more detail each of these three optimizations, which you could rotate through repeatedly until you cannot make any further improvement:

Harness optimization. Hold the location of the hubs and the assignment of which hub each heliostat is associated with fixed (to be the same as in the current candidate solution). The goal is optimize the routing of the harness wiring. For candidate algorithms for that, see the other question. My suspicion is that this step is the one where there are the greatest opportunities for improving your solution, and where it's worth devoting the most effort to.

Hub location optimization. Hold the heliostat-to-hub assignments and harness routing fixed. Pick a single hub and the heliostats associated with it. Then it's easy to fine-tune the location of the hub to minimize overall cost, under the assumption that you don't change the topology/routing of the harnesses.

In particular, each harness contributes one edge from the hub $r$ to the heliostats $h_1,h_2,\dots,h_{12}$ it is immediately connected to. Now we want to find a location for $r$ that minimizes the sum of distances $d(r,h_1)+\dots + d(r,h_{12})$. This is a sum-of-squares problem so it can be solved through standard sum-of-squares optimization, or simply by solving it with gradient descent; since we're in only 2 dimensions I would expect any method to converge rapidly. You can do this separately for each hub.

It would also be possible to try a random perturbation to the location of the hub, re-apply harness optimization, see whether this reduced the overall cost, and if so accept that change to the hub location. This might be more expensive than it is worth.

Heliostat assignment to hubs. Hold the location of hubs fixed, and assume we're not going to make radical changes to the harness topology. We can try to fine-tune the assignment of heliostats to hubs in a number of ways.

One approach is to pick a heliostat $h$ that is currently assigned to hub $r_1$ but is relatively close to another heliostat that's wired to a different hub $r_2$, try swapping which hub it is associated with, and see if this leads to any reduction in cost. To determine whether it leads to a reduction in cost you could re-run harness optimization from scratch in both cases (which might be slow). Or, as a fast heuristic, you could remove $h$ from its current harness, find the nearest heliostat $h'$ that's currently connected to $r_2$, attach $h$ to $h'$ (splicing it into the harness for $h'$), and see whether this reduces the cost.

Another approach would be to do a more ambitious optimization. Pick a pair of hubs $r_1,r_2$ and the set of heliostats currently connected to either of them. Now try to apply joint harness optimization to that set of heliostats and those two hubs simultaneously, simultaneously optimizing the routing of the heliostats and also which hub each heliostat is connected. The methods in that other question can be generalized to solve this problem. When finding the solution we may find that one or two heliostats switch which hub they are connected to. Now repeat this for every pair of adjacent hubs. However, my guess is that heliostat assignment might not yield many gains (compared to the naive method of assigning each heliostat to the hub it is closest to), so it might not be worth implementing these more sophisticated methods for heliostat assignment.

Overall algorithm. In summary, we start from some initial solution (e.g., selected using the method described in the question) and then repeatedly rotate through the following three operations:

  • Harness optimization: fine-tune the routing of the harnesses.
  • Hub location optimization: fine-tune the location of the hubs.
  • Heliostat re-assignment: fune-tune the assignment of heliostats to hubs.

There is no guarantee that this will lead to a global optimum, i.e., the absolute lowest cost possible. This could get stuck in a local minimum. There are various methods for dealing with that (e.g., applying random perturbations; re-starting from multiple randomly chosen initial solutions), which you could experiment with as well.

Hopefully this will help you find a solution that is "good enough", or at least, get you started on some methods to try. Good luck!


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