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Why The Energy Industry Needs Open Source Shared Technology

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Gabriel Bareux, RTE; Lucas Saludjian, RTE; Shuli Goodman, Executive Director LF Energy

Our electricity system is a complex, multi-player system that has slowly evolved over the last 125 years. Investments are made in hard assets – like transformers, relays, switches, generators, and substations – with a 30-80 year lifetime window. This has made the grid both a robust, sustainable, and efficient energy system, and a slow and lumbering management scheme that is resistant to change. The “electrification of everything” imperative driving the energy transition is forcing power systems engineers to become fast students in Moore’s Law of rapid innovation. These conditions – the need for change in a critical 24/7 environment that is a fairly rigid system now requiring immense flexibility – makes for an interesting moment in time and illustrates perfectly why open source shared technology and LF Energy are so critical to accelerating the diffusion of energy innovations. We can be moving and innovating faster – progress is in our hands.

Historically, grid operations are more or less organized in a layered fashion between transmission, distribution, generation, and load. It is the system interfaces between these layers that offers virtualization and communication opportunities – thereby allowing us to do more with less and move from centralized to distributed.

Operating the grid from a command and control paradigm is challenged because:

  • The dynamics of the operation of the grid have become incompatible with post-fault actions relying on solely on human intervention.
  • The rise of variable and distributed renewable energy resources (wind/sun/hydro), coupled with storage and electric mobility, plus the potential offered by demand response and IoT, require entirely new models and ways of facilitating the grid.
  • This exponential increase in the number of potential flexibilities produces a system that is far beyond the capability of a human brain to organize.

To explore but one part of a vast system of systems – take the transmission-distribution interface:

  • The first level of operation is at the centralized control room, which has been responsible for (from a few hours in advance until real-time) the optimal and robust control of grid elements (switches, breakers, voltage set points, HVDC set points, taps of phase shifters) and the balancing of the system (adequacy between generation and demand). These controls have been mainly manual (e.g opening of a breaker), semi-automated (e.g voltage control) or completely automated (primary frequency control) and implemented either as preventive actions or post-fault. Most post-fault actions must be compatible with the ability of an operator to react (minutes) with the help of tools such as SCADA systems.
  • The second level is at the substation.  This is where fast (ms or seconds) automation routines have been implemented to protect humans and physical assets when the grid is stressed beyond its nominal operational limits.

Technological challenges can become opportunities by leveraging new flexibilities to turn previously unimagined advances to our advantage:

  • Artificial intelligence and deep learning algorithms may be used to propose a global, optimal, and robust preventive actions/profiles, while taking into account the flexibilities provided by distributed, fast automations.
  • The ability for fast (seconds) control of sub-areas of the grid using distributed algorithms in digital substations. Smart algorithms can coordinate flexibilities located in tens/hundreds of substations, enabling the preventive profiles provided by the upper layer.
  • The ability to shape and orchestrate load control, along with distributed generation control, can enable grid operators to relax the constraints of grid operation, and/or short-term balancing, in flexible and innovative ways.

Our electricity system has been remarkably dependable, so much so that nearly all of us take it for granted: the grid’s stability, security, and reliability have enabled great social advances and robust economies. Yet, the grid, and power system in general, are brittle and slow to adapt to the social and political imperatives driving the fast pace of change. Timing – from hours, to minutes, to milliseconds – can be facilitated by smart communication between hardware and the system as-a-whole. Mastering the coordination is critical to opening the door to orchestrating and shaping electricity loads and demands through information and communication technology (ICT).

Leveraging open source shared technology, the new LF Energy project from The Linux Foundation is helping to push the envelope with ICT to exponentially increase network capacity as well as accelerate the energy transition and the move to renewable energy, electric mobility, demand response and more. Sign up for the LF Energy newsletter for the latest updates on this exciting new initiative.