How open source is accelerating electric sustainability
Increasing concerns about climate change, sustainability tax incentives and pending energy shocks are all giving a boost to efforts to decarbonize the grid and increase energy efficiency. One result has been increased support for Linux Foundation Energy (LF Energy), an open-source foundation focused on harnessing the power of collaborative software and hardware technologies to decarbonize global economies.
Today, virtually all devices that manage, control or orchestrate power systems are built on proprietary systems. The group recently announced several new efforts to usher in a new era of sustainability innovation:
- The Carbon Data Specification (CDS) for precise, granular carbon metrics will help firms connect carbon emissions to business planning.
- EVerest is developing pen-source car and battery standards that will simplify chargers and create a market for new apps for storing and delivering power to mitigate blackouts and pay for the gear.
- GridLab-D will commoditize energy digital twins to help power companies optimize operations.
- Super Advanced Meter will transform the humble power meter into an intelligent power management control system to respond to energy pricing signals, detect errant devices, and help families and businesses plan for energy efficiency.
New sustainability apps, cloud services and energy management could work across equipment from different vendors and regions. This will drive incredible opportunities for innovations by startups and established companies alike. OneLF Energy member, WattCarbon, is currently developing decarbonization measurement tools. Another, Utilidata is also digitizing the grid edge to leverage new artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms.
The energy imperative
Governments worldwide are competing to incentivize efforts to decarbonize the economy. For example, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S. includes uncapped tax credits for electric vehicles and zero-carbon electricity. This could subsidize $374 to $800 billion in sustainability credits and catalyze far more private investment.
Meanwhile, governments are struggling to plan for expected shocks in the oil and gas industry caused by the war in Ukraine through a mix of tax credits and rolling blackouts this winter. Energy firms may also face significant windfall taxes that investments in decarbonization efforts could allay.
These factors have helped increase interest in supporting LF Energy. For example, Shell recently joined as a Strategic Member, the highest membership level, while Microsoft has upgraded from a General Member to a Strategic Member. Other new members include Areti, a Swiss energy company, and Futurewei, the U.S.-based research arm of Huawei.
All of these companies are betting on the continued success of the open-source group.
Betting on progress
LF Energy was founded by executive director Shuli Goodman in 2018 with support from French energy giant RTE. Goodman told VentureBeat the group has already achieved several milestones in pursuit of its mission to accelerate the energy transition to reach decarbonization goals.
It laid the foundation with a functional architecture in 2020 to support future electrical grids.
“This stack had never been defined in this way before by government or industry, and it is already providing guidance on what is needed to manage a power network,” Goodman said.
Once this foundation was in place, the group doubled the number of open-source projects it hosted in 2021.
Earlier this year, 20 members collaborated on publishing the Digitalization of Energy Action Plan to help coordinate open-source efforts across academia, industry and governments. It also plans to roll out LF Energy Standards and Specification (LFESS) soon.
“While our focus up until now has been on software development, it is essential to build standards to ensure interoperability and scalability and to reduce the risk of stranded infrastructure in the future,” Goodman said.
Simplify carbon reporting
Carbon data specification (CDS) is designed to create a semantic ontology and global standard for energy generation and consumption data. This allows apps and tools to calculate usage and generation carbon intensity. Until now, no specification has been defined by any other efforts.
“Currently, each utility, vendor, and commercial customer designs their best guess and makes assumptions based on it, even when it is not sufficiently detailed or granular enough to truly drive grid decarbonization,” Goodman said.
Organizations typically divide energy usage by predetermined weighting estimates, which vary across companies and geographies. The CDS will provide more granular details to help firms respond to hourly fuel mixes, which will help assess the impact of variations at an hourly level. It will also make it easier to account for energy usage that drives decarbonization, which is difficult to include today.
Standardize electric digital twins
The LF Energy community is also bringing together several tools to improve real-time guidance for energy policy using simulation and digital twins. They recently took over stewardship from the Pacific Northwest National Lab of GridLAB-D, which complements an existing effort called PowSyBI for modeling power systems. These efforts will help enterprises commercialize more accurate digital twins and simulation tools for planning, maintenance, and control.
“Digital twins are essential, very complex software, and it is very difficult to get good dynamic expressions of these super complex systems, which we hope this type of modeling will help address,” said Goodman.
Consolidate EV infrastructure
As electric vehicles (EVs) take off, owners face a bevy of different charging outlets with various apps, software, and payment schemes. Just as the EU recently legislated a single charging standard for phones after years of dongle chaos — the LF Energy EVerest project could help to bring similar standardization to much more expensive car charging.
Today, EV customers cannot move between different charging environments created by proprietary charging solutions. Proprietary solutions embedded in thousands of chargers are exposed to the risk of a company going under or abandoning a proprietary standard, which could create stranded infrastructure and wastetime and investments. Open-source solutions like EVerest will ensure interoperability and a consistent experience across infrastructure, accelerating the transition to digital mobility.
Unlock market for meter apps
Power meters today run an assortment of operating systems and applications. Some proprietary meters run embedded Linux, but with different supporting hardware and software.
“We are trying to provide reference designs for both software and hardware that can be used anywhere as a virtual node,” Goodman explained. “This will ensure interoperability, lower costs and speed scalability.”
Existing advances in smart meters have made it easier to eliminate manual meter readings. The new Super Advanced Meter reference design will provide a standard platform for community energy, virtual power plants and improved automation. It may also reinvigorate promising technologies like infrastructure-mediated sensing that leveraged AI to monitor individual devices centrally.
Goodman said commercialization is their most significant goal in the coming year.
“We need to increase the capacity of the entire community to scale and prepare them for the energy transition. This requires developing open-source solutions and standards that can be integrated quickly into proprietary use cases. We also have to ensure the software is hardened through security best practices and create proper documentation, so everyone can make use of it,” she said. “Every single one of our efforts are organized around making commercial adoption easier and providing value to everyone from technology firms to generators, utilities, transmitters, distributors and end users.”
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