Open-source technology may spark grid modernization

Published on November 19, 2019 by Nancy Dunham

Shuli Goodman

As the Department of Energy (DOE) funds a host of projects to address grid modernization and energy demands and electric utilities scramble to educate consumers about power concerns, a global coalition is quietly developing an alternative path for grid modernization based on past technology successes.

LF Energy, a project housed at the Linux Foundation, aims to use open-source technology in much the same way it was used to build the modern-day internet.

“The value of open source is to create a shared, commodity layer of software that can accelerate innovation while dramatically shifting the economics of energy,” said Shuli Goodman, executive director of LF Energy. “This is similar to what has happened in other industries, it’s time for no more black boxes (proprietary technology). That’s over.”

Unlike the 1990s when most technology was proprietary, today developers have a bounty of open-source technology they can use, modify or share without patent concerns. The non-proprietary nature of the technology allows developers to collaborate in the open, and even among competitors. This shift from monolithic software development and design to continuous integration and continuous deployment allows for software to be composed of microservices built with open source building blocks. Open innovation and accelerated development models may not only help to solve the communication requirements of a vastly distributed energy future, but ease upgrades of technology in a host of other endeavors.

“Any human endeavor is flawed because we are imperfect,” said Goodman. “Yet repeatedly, the Linux Foundation has shown itself to be a phenomenal platform for collective action at scale. This has been demonstrated whether through the Linux OS, the Internet, or in telecommunications, automotive, cloud, or block-chain. We need neutral places to change paradigms and power systems are no different. It is critical to the grid of the future.”

The LF Energy group started with core pieces of software and then expanded beyond that addressing concerns and energy-specific interests step-by-step. As utilities and suppliers have joined, new software has come into the Foundation. Next year is going to be a bellwether year. LF Energy will be announcing numerous projects from consent management of user data to flexibility services at a national scale, to data fabric layers that enable communication between IT and OT. Although some developers have greater interest in some software than others, all of the software moves the grid towards the goal of 100 percent decarbonization by 2050.

Goodman describes the shift from centralized to decentralized mode of energy resources as somewhat similar to what is happening with food production.

“The more local we are the less tech debt that we create. The new mantra for power systems is evolving to be ‘generate more local, consume more local’. In turn, this will help us to reduce the strain on shared infrastructure,” she said, “given the importance of shared infrastructure in our society and economy.”

Goodman noted that European countries are ahead of the United States in such development.

“The deterioration of the electric grids in the U.S. is emblematic of our short-sighted deferral of investment in shared infrastructure, period. We have pushed much-needed updates and grid modernization down the road like we have done with our bridges, roadways, water systems, and other public infrastructure. It’s not a foregone conclusion that infrastructure needs to be starved. There is a role for local and federal government,” Goodman said.