Towards a greener future via open-source software

By Michael Rogers

LF Energy leverages transparent, open-source development best practices, along with existing and emerging standards, to efficiently scale, modernise and digitally transform the power systems sector (illustration: LF Energy)

LF Energy, a non-profit Linux Foundation initiative, currently works towards updating the power grid through open-source technologies to accelerate the uptake of renewable energy. The initiative gathers stakeholders to address the complex, interconnected problems associated with the decarbonisation of energy by using resilient, secure and flexible open-source software.

The initiative’s innovative projects provide frameworks and reference implementations that aim to minimise pain points such as cybersecurity, interoperability, control, automation, virtualisation, and the orchestration of supply and demand.

Shuli Goodman, founder and Executive Director of LF Energy
Shuli Goodman, founder and Executive Director of LF Energy

To find out more about LF Energy’s work and its vision for the future, Energy Northern Perspective contacted Dr Shuli Goodman, the initiative’s founder and Executive Director. With a doctorate in Organizational Systems focused on innovation and the energy transition, Dr Goodman is the driving force behind LF Energy’s ambition is to accelerate the energy transition and the decarbonisation of the world’s economies.

ENP: Could you start by briefly explaining the general advantages and benefits of the open-source software approach?

Dr Goodman: “Open-source software is essentially a permissive IP license that allows for shared investment to protect the contributions of multiple stakeholders. Implementing an open-source software approach enables multiple benefits within the energy industry, such as de facto implementations of standards that enable interoperability. Software abstracts complexity. What we have found is that in modern software development approximately 80% is non-differentiating and essentially ICT plumbing.”

“Open-source communities like the Linux Foundation protect this open-source software defined infrastructure and ensure that the communities are run as safe neutral environments. Additionally, because of the all-eyes approach, enterprise open source like we are curating at LF Energy, is safer and offers better information security, with greater flexibility, and adaptability. LF Energy as a foundation is focused on 100% decarbonisation. Our goal is the elimination of carbon emissions in energy and transportation, through electrification, to move us into a greener future.”

And more specifically, how these benefits and the collaborative nature of open source can be applied to the energy sector?

“Power and energy are essentially the lifeblood of our economy. Utilities have been governed by inertia, which is the central paradigm for how the grid is balanced. That inertia can be found at all levels. The current conditions of creating a low-inertia grid, composed of distributed energy resources, requires that utilities move at the speed of technology.”

“Digitalisation implies that we are networking and orchestrating all aspects from generation to transmission, distribution, and to demand. While we are hosting great software at LF Energy, we are also capacity building. Meaning we are teaching utilities to build modern software and helping them to transform the strategic direction of their organisations with Open-Source Program Offices.”

“Community and capacity building is perhaps one of the most important aspects of what enterprise open source can bring to the power systems sector. There are 25 million GitHub repos. There are 450 projects at the Linux Foundation which are the most valuable and important software upon which the world then creates economic value.”

Considering the uptake of digitalisation in the upstream oil and gas as well as in the renewable energy sector, has the electrical energy distribution grid kept pace towards embracing digitalisation?

“There is no way to have a distributed energy paradigm without digitisation and distributed computing. We have a ways to go in the United States. Europe, at a policy level has identified that open source is the way and the future of all economic prosperity. They are deliberate, focused, and directed about digitising their electrical energy distribution grids and using open source. By their estimates 50-60% of the effort for transforming our grid is digital. People think that digitisation only pertains to renewables, but it’s much more than that; it goes all the way back to how you actually network these energy distribution grids.”

“You can adapt open-source solutions to work with legacy systems by using a cloud-native approach. In this way, you’re able to integrate your legacy and proprietary systems to remove the black box aspect of the grid we currently face. If you speak to nearly any system operator, they will all share how they feel held hostage by their vendors. The only way to change this mindset is if the end-users, such as utilities and commercial and industrial customers, finally say ‘no’ to black-boxes. Disaggregation of hardware and software is essential to both decreasing costs and scaling software in the field. Energy is inherently local. Therefore, there will never be a one size fits all. However, cloud native, microservices can help us to decompose the functionality of our power systems in a way that is manageable, rapid, and democratised.”

“Additionally, to accelerate the shift to clean energy, we need power grids that can support a major increase in energy demands. This is because electric vehicles, which require significant power to charge, are critical to decarbonisation. To the degree that we shift power transport and distribution demands, we can begin building micro-grids, or smaller, fractal, self-similar grids that are composed into a larger grid infrastructure in economic industrial centres. And, in more remote areas, the smaller grids can operate autonomously.”

“But developing this infrastructure quickly is extremely difficult, as our current electricity infrastructure was not built initially with today’s climate in mind. Past design decisions guaranteed that future generations – our current generation – would need to fix the systems later at a high cost.”

“Modernising our current infrastructure while also building new sustainable infrastructure is an extremely slow and expensive process. Open source’s flexibility and agility allows us to rid ourselves of several generations’ worth of technical debt while managing the well-being of our planet and future generations in a faster, more efficient manner.”

In what ways can the work LF Energy is doing aid in the transition as older grids are replaced by new infrastructure?

“LF Energy is in the process of creating the conditions for the rapid scaling and onboarding of electric mobility to make the grids of the future possible. However, to successfully meet the conditions needed during and before we scale our infrastructure, we need access to data, be it end-user or customer data. Without this data, scaling will become more complicated, potentially delaying the process as a whole. To replace the old with the new, software-defined infrastructures are crucial. as they can retire software at the distribution level.”

Could you comment on how the open-source approach has contributed to overcoming possible issues with scalability when designing new systems, as well as how grids must deal with the challenges of distribution from a mix of power production sources?

“Cloud-native computing at its core is all about scaling existing technologies, which is the main focus of LF Energy. We can’t scale if a network operator can’t manage their own data efficiently, let alone, shared, industry-wide data. We need near- and far-edge to be secure. That’s what LF Energy is doing: creating the conditions for rapid scaling and the rapid mobilisation of renewable energy.”

LF Energy“Most recently, LF Energy launched our openLEADR project with OpenADR Alliance and Elaad NL to encourage industry collaboration and accelerate the transition to renewables. openLEADR provides an open standard for exchanging demand response information among global utilities, energy management and control systems. The industry needs demand response, which is matching the demand for power with the supply, because the grid as it stands isn’t flexible enough to respond to spikes in consumer demand. Through this new exchange, organisations are able to more flexibly manage the supply and demand of energy by shifting to more variable renewable energy sources during peak demand times, rather than relying on fossil fuels.”

What’s next? Looking forward as more renewable energy sources come online, in what ways do you foresee LF Energy’s work evolving?

“Our mission is to drive innovation and the software ecosystem needed to achieve 100% decarbonisation through a distributed clean energy grid. LF Energy is looking to build the non-differentiating software layer to fundamentally transform the grid. Collaborating is one of the most powerful tools we have for accelerating the energy transition and achieving decarbonisation goals. There are projects that need to happen, which require cooperation among multiple entities and across industries, such as the telecommunications, networking and automotive industries. So whether you are a vendor, utility or an oil/gas company, you need access to a neutral environment that houses reference implementations and leverages shared development to decrease individual costs while, simultaneously, increasing collective investment.”

“As renewable energy sources continue to move and become more available online, LF Energy is continuing to adapt its projects to integrate cohesive and efficient services. Some of these include flexibility services, creating new energy management that reflects price-based grid coordination, and encouraging advanced construction of weather-resistant grids.”