What's happening with the Linux sustainable energy initiative? An update from LF Energy

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In the short time since we last interviewed LF Energy's executive director Shuli Goodman - in November 2018, shortly after it was founded - the body, which came out of the Linux Foundation and aims to make energy usage drastically more efficient with an open source framework, has added more than 20 new members and established three projects.

Big hitters including the sustainable research subsidiary NREL of America's Department of Energy, Monash University, IBM, Stanford University, Washington State, Vanderbilt, and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have joined as members, with a view to finding a collaborative way to better manage energy consumption and distribution.

The three new projects are:

  • OpenEEmeter, an open source engine for quantifying changes within energy consumption, as well as providing standards with meters themselves.
  • The Energy Market Methods Consortium (EM2), which will design standards around energy flexibility from the meter to the grid, while also preserving the privacy of its users.
  • And the Open Energy Data Initiative, which aims to join up data points to provide datalakes for analysing information around energy usage. This is where the US DoE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) comes in.

This is, of course, an ongoing project - with these only the latest collection of updates six months after LF Energy got started. Goodman tells us that she is in conversation with Britain's National Grid, and is in particular keeping an eye on the UK government's Energy Data Taskforce.

Read next: How LF Energy plans to open source energy

We asked Shuli Goodman - who compared herself to "Johnny Appleseed", travelling around the world planting the seed of better, sustainable, more efficient energy in the minds of governments and potential partners - to explain in her words why these updates are significant.

"This is a tremendous coalition of people and organisations who have a vision, and an understanding that this is an opportunity to leverage a platform at The Linux Foundation to accelerate the energy transition," she told Computerworld UK, adding that at present the group is still "tending to the hive" to build up the body. "I'm really happy with where we are and I feel like the momentum is just beginning.

"I think that there will be a tipping point, and people will be attracted to us, but certainly, particularly in the TSO [transmission system operator] community in Europe, they're beginning to hear from each other. That is really the ideal and best way."

The Open Energy Data Initiative (OEDI) could provide the "means and mechanisms" for being able to work with big data in energy, she explained, from data lakes to AI algorithms. This is probably "one of the highest priorities" that she finds when speaking with utilities providers.

"Very few utilities globally have either the capacity or the reach in terms of the amount of data, to be able to really, in a wholesale way, transition to AI and machine learning," she explained. "They actually need each other to be able to do that in the predictive maintenance space - it's not like transformers fail a lot, but what it's going to take is a lot of data across a lot of data points to be able to really successfully begin managing the grid."

OEDI, then, is a "foundational element" to say to the market that there is an opportunity in better energy management with an open source approach to big data.

Establishing a global standard

The OpenEE meter, meanwhile, emerged organically. It's necessary to the bigger picture for measuring energy because it aims to establish a unit for defining energy efficiency. She compares the problem to if car manufacturers all had different ideas for how to measure miles per gallon.

"What OpenEE and EM2 do is begin to define the specifications for new markets in flexibility services, define the practices and guidelines for customer data," she said. "OpenEEmeter is an expression of those methods that enable states, utilities, or nations to calculate that this is where the value of energy efficiency is equal to."

It is the result of the work between 85 different organisations, including America's National Association of Stater Energy Officials - NASEO - which comprises the energy state officials appointed by the governors of every US state.

"These 85 individuals, this is how they defined what a unit of energy efficiency is and we want to be able to make that a global standard," Goodman said. "If we do that, then we can begin to harmonise our markets and build a flexibilities service as a market in the energy domain."

Faraday Grid and the UK ecosystem

Faraday Grid is an Edinburgh-based company that has become a partner with LF Energy. It recently received a cash injection from the founder of WeWork to help it "design and deliver the technology platform for the future energy ecosystem".

On the same call, Faraday Grid founder, director and CTO, Matthew Williams, explained that in Britain, at the utility and national grid level, operators are tending towards being conservative because they need to ensure they're complying with rules and regulations. But he is hopeful that changing policies and regulations around data usage will help break down energy data silos and allow companies such as Faraday Grid to build a better picture of the landscape.

"We're starting to record more and more, but it's all sitting in silos in different formats," said Williams. "The first challenge is, even at a utility level, where you have different grids that are connected, is how do you get it to this common format so that they can share information, to get that interoperability, but then to have it more publicly available so it can be openly used by everyone from renewables to developers? So they can start looking at, and make better decisions of where and what types of assets should be put in place, or what type of storage asset should be put in place.

"This is electricity, we don't want to be messing with it, but we all agree that we are going to have to change. Having that input, so we can be doing as much offline from the system before anything goes on in the real world. This is where data and AI and machine learning are going to have a huge amount of value in our innovation cycle."

The aim for Faraday Grid is achieving that holy grail of a win-win scenario where the grid, the operators, and the consumers all mutually benefit from a more efficient energy system. The grid is wasting less when it is operating more smoothly, the utilities receive overhead benefits as a result, and this is ultimately translated into savings for the consumers' pocket. Such a transformation could be a boon especially for the utilities operators, which have been understandably maligned since privatisation in Britain.

The pitch is that his company could cut wastage from as much as a billion pounds in a single year. "Our vision is enabling sustainable prosperity for everyone, not just in the UK and Europe but everyone in the entire world," said Williams. "It's got to be a win-win: our technology, the utility, it makes life easier, it makes their grid more resilient, they can keep the lights on."

Goodman compared the potential for transformation in the energy sector to the way that better internet connectivity helped transform telecommunications.

"If you had an international call it was typically extremely short," she said. "You'd say: hello, how are you? And then you'd hang up, and it was £10, it was expensive.

"Now what we have - and this is like what happens when open source profoundly disrupts an digitalises an industry - what you have is a huge shift in value and opportunity. We could spend all day every day on video calls with each other internationally, and it does not cost more than what your monthly service charge is."

By shifting that conversation, Goodman envisions LF Energy making a profound, not just incremental, difference to the industry.

"So what I think we have to be able to do is profoundly harness the value of electrons, and so that we are using them in an exponentially more efficient manner. Right now I think that there's enormous waste in the system, and we manage that waste by throwing more resources at it. We need to add stuff: and that increases the overall value for the consumer, for society, for commercial and industrial customers. If we can learn to use that more efficiently then we have the possibility to get that exponential change as opposed to just incremental change," she said.

"We have done things incrementally, and we have great proof of concepts. But as we begin to move to 20 percent, 30 percent, 50 percent, 80 percent decarbonisation, all of those incremental changes are going to require exponential innovation, and that's what the Linux Foundation is good at."

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