By: Matthew Williams, Founder, Director, and Chief Technology Officer, Faraday Grid Ltd.
The electricity system is the biggest and one of the most complex machines ever built. In recent decades, this machine has begun to undergo a radical transition, with both the way we generate and use electricity evolving. In the midst of this, however, the power grid has not been able to keep up pace, which already manifests in reliability issues, such as power disturbances or even blackouts, and ever-increasing electricity costs.
The primary approach to address this so far has been to compensate for the grid’s weaknesses by adding external mitigating technologies; an approach unsustainable in the face of the fundamental energy transition we are experiencing. The electricity system needs a revolution, and it needs it now. To enable this at the pace necessary can only be a matter of collective effort. For this, the energy community needs an open source environment that facilitates collaboration and fuels innovation.
Over the last century, our society flourished thanks to the availability of reliable and affordable electricity. During this time, nearly every aspect of our life, including our entire economy became dependent on it. As our values and behaviors are shifting, our approach to electricity is evolving as well; with ever-increasing energy use on the consumption side, and variable renewables taking up rising portions in the energy mix on the generation side.
In the meantime, the delivery system underpinning all this, the electricity grid has remained fundamentally the same since its invention over one-hundred years ago. This is a problem, because the grid was not designed for power flows of modern electricity use and generation, and these changes are rapidly driving its architecture close to a breaking-point.
The only reason it is still able to fulfil its duty of supplying energy right now is due to grid operators investing substantially into various mitigating technologies. These are band aid solutions individually added on top of the system, that are able reactively address symptoms of an unsuitable grid. However, at a great cost: they heavily increase the complexity of the electricity system. Looking at the system as a whole, complexity can only mean two things: increased fragility and increased costs; two things that directly contradict our intention to ensure supply of reliable and affordable electricity.
It is clear that ultimately, a system-wide solution is the way forward. Nonetheless, there are countless players shaping the energy sphere who operate independently, each using their personalized tools and solutions. In other words, the pieces of hardware and software that enable us to have an energy system are not designed to be interoperable. This results in the different companies, who own and operate various parts of the system, not being able to share information with each other at all, simply because that is in different formats – despite being connected by physical power lines.
Currently, too much creative time is wasted among key shapers of energy just finding ways to work together, as opposed to focusing on actual innovation. This is a critical issue to be resolved, as realizing a sustainable energy system that continues to bring prosperity will no doubt require the energy community to come together in close collaboration.
As a technology, the internet has completely outpaced all other technologies over the last twenty- thirty years. What enabled it to grow and scale to add so much value so quickly? It had some fantastic minds working on it, for sure. But the key was that its global crowd of developers agreed on a shared set of tools. Using these, each participant is able to shape the world wide web with their individual value, and we know this will continue to be the case.
This is what we need in energy. We can be certain that no one technology, company, or academic institution will be able to comprehensively resolve the systemic issues the energy system is facing by themselves. We need a global collaboration – and to enable that, a shared set of tools, a common architecture, a framework that enables all players of energy to contribute to the system most efficiently.
A common platform will speed up technological innovation, by ensuring that participants are no longer limited by the lack of interoperability. Rather, they are free to focus on adding the unique value they provide; ranging from little blockchain startups to large utilities.
Importantly, there is no central authority who sets the rules in an open source system, the group selects the optimal solution from the pool of multi-disciplinary perspectives. Rather than following a subjective decision, an entire community is available to constantly define, change, edit, and improve what the framework is.
At Faraday Grid, we are building a physical platform that will enable the plethora of technologies shaping the energy transition, ones that already exist and the ones yet to come. Faraday is a Founding member of LF Energy, because we not only share a common vision – enabling a future-proof energy system – but see no alternative to achieve this, other than through open-source collaboration.
LF Energy is an open source initiative, focused on the power systems’ sector, overseen and hosted at the Linux Foundation. LF Energy provides a neutral, collaborative environment to build the digital foundations that enable the “electrification of everything to scale” to transform the world’s relationship to energy. The Linux Foundation has led initiatives to modernize industries including telecommunications, financial services, automobiles, filmmaking, consumer products and more through the use of open source, and the time is right to do the same for power systems.
I am excited to represent both LF Energy and Faraday Grid at DistribuTECH in New Orleans this year, where I will expand on why we believe an open source system is a necessary foundation for a prosperous energy future. If you’ll be at the event, I invite you to come see my talk (details below) and/or shoot an email to connect to: luca [dot] mezossy-dona [at] faradaygrid [dot] com.
The Future of Energy is Shared Technology Innovation
Room: Exhibit Floor Booth 11456
Tuesday, February 05, 2019: 3:00 PM – 3:30 PM
Track: Digitalizing the Grid