I recetly had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. Shuli Goodman, the executive director of Linux Foundation Energy (LF Energy). The conversation was educational for me and it’s exciting to see how The Linux Foundation is doing its part in helping to decarbonize our world. Shuli’s background is in innovation theory and in the adoption and diffusion of innovation. Before explaining what LF Energy does, Shuli told me that she agreed with Elon Musk’s take on building the future, referring to a recent article of mine. That article covered Elon Musk’s visit to Giga Berlin, where he gave a passionate speech about the future.
“Do you want to wake up every morning everything is just a problem? But what inspires you? What makes you excited about the future? There’s got to be some things like that.” —Elon Musk
Shuli touched upon the importance of what LF Energy is doing, and how many people just don’t like to change unless they are forced to — and, like it or not, climate change is forcing humanity to change. It’s a change-or-die scenario and many people still don’t take it seriously. This is why the works of companies such as Tesla, environmental groups such as Sierra Club, and even the works of our Native American water protectors who are risking their lives to stop Line 3 from ruining the water supply of millions of Americans (including myself) are critical.
Shuli said, “When I think about what it is that we’re doing and how hard it is to do, we are truly making these tectonic and geopolitical shifts. People don’t like to change. They don’t like to change unless they have to. That’s just human nature.”
Shuli explained that she has her own well on her property, and for the first time, she is low on water. She has enough for now, but she’s seeing a decline in her well water. She’s also dealing with fires in her area, along with a 1200-year drought.
“Climate change is not abstract to me. And this project is not abstract.
“I think the idea of being able to shake people awake about what’s happening but also to give them a hopeful kind of perspective about how to move forward — what I liked about the clip of Elon Musk is that he was basically saying, we wake up every morning and all we see is just problems and we don’t see a path forward. It’s gonna crush us. Emotionally, it’s gonna crush us.”
What The Linux Foundation And LF Energy Are Doing To Help
Shuli explained that both The Linux Foundation and LF Energy are part of that story of what can provide us with hope and a positive path forward. The uniqueness of LF Energy all started with Shuli. She pointed out that it could have started with IBM, Google, Microsoft, or Hitachi pitching an idea to them. Instead, it was her, and she said,
“‘I want to do a project because I can see where the puck is going. And from an adoption and diffusion perspective, the only way we can do this is through the power of together.”
She told me that The Linux Foundation is essentially a platform for joint investment — a legal framework that ensures that anti-trust laws will not be triggered and that intellectual property can be jointly invested in.
“I think of the Linux Foundation as — it’s really a legal framework and the project — there are over 450 now — sit in a legal framework. A legal series kind of like Delaware Corp. They’re like a series of projects that all exist in The Linux Foundation. The Linux Foundation is like the keeper of the copyrights, patents, and ensures that the intellectual property is protected.”
She explained that we have to transform our communities, that we absolutely have to find every way we can right now to improve how efficiently we use electrons.
“At the very base level, how we consume electrons also has to be transformed. And so, every single consumer product company on the planet has to transform, every single electric mobility company has to transform. Everyone is going to have to change everything.
“When power system networks were created, they were created with the mind that actually believed in Manifest Destiny and colonialism. It’s a very imperialistic model in which we are just shoving as many electrons down a line as possible.
“If you have a system with 40%–50% of it is actually lost in transmission and distribution, then what you want to do is redesign the system that actually is looking at radical energy efficiency where every electron is valuable and accounted for. Electrons, unlike bits and bytes, can not be just transmitted through the air.
“It has to go over a conductive surface. At its best, we are best situated to create local and consume locally. Secondly, we are best situated for medium and low-voltage transmission. Because we live in the United States and have these big distances. The third choice would be a really high voltage transmission over long distances.”
The Importance of Open Source, Digitalization & Electrons
Although electrons are physical and software is pretty much digital, Shuli explained how these together are important and play critical roles in helping our planet. The goal here is to network electrons. In essence, LF Energy is networking the data of the electrons. More specifically, the data about an electron’s supply and consumption.
Shuli pointed out that LF Energy has big initiatives that will transform the US and referenced similar previous initiatives such as the freeway system, trains, and ultimately, electrification itself.
Shuli explained that the freeway system and other large transportation systems are kind of open-sourced. Yes, we pay taxes collectively and those tax dollars are supposed to go to fund the upkeep and creation of these systems. However, they are technically open-sourced.
“They are a collective investment.
“We have starved our infrastructure, but our roads, electrification, trains, planes — those things — open source for power systems is basically acknowledging that we need to put in plumbing and the digital infrastructure that is going to allow for this new way of handling radical electron efficiency — radical energy efficiency.”
The Project: Harmonizing The Fragmentation Of Energy
Shuli told me that the project has been mostly started in Europe and added that they are probably 5–7 years ahead of us in transformative electrification initiatives and in e-mobility. She said that the European Commission is creating software and open-sourcing it since it’s advocating strongly for the change. The EU wants its nations to work together instead of them doing their own thing in a scattered way.
“LF Energy really becomes a platform for nations and countries all over the world to work together to do this thing and to harmonize the fragmentation.
“One of the interesting things about how energy evolved on a planetary level is that every region, every state, every country more or less had their own flavor. If you talk to the big OEMs like the Siemens, the GEs, the Schneider Electrics, and the ABBs, they will tell you that every utility has their own requirements. And if you talk to the utilities, they will tell you that all the OEMs want to customize their configurations. Everything is custom.”
Basically, everyone has their own way of doing things, whether individually or utility structured. This is what she means by fragmented. She noted that here in the US we have organizations that have developed proprietary standards which need to be liberated in order to drive interoperability.
“We can use software to abstract the complexity of the differences that exist either regionally, between states, or [between] cities. We can abstract that complexity with software. What we want is to get an 80% kind of solution.”
The Project In Action
Shuli showed me three slides of the framework for what will become the LF Energy Application Catalogue. The first slide is the actual framework, which has five main categories:
- Customer & Market.
- System Management.
- Acquisition and Control.
- Asset Management.
The last one had parts of the previous four categories. Shuli explained that this is the mental model for how a power system network could be constructed. She explained that the three-level taxonomy was simplifying the complexity of the project. The next slide breaks this down even further into three sections and I’m listing them in order from the bottom (foundation) up.
- Edge & Distributed Intelligence (Infrastructure)
- Central Supporting Services. (Data & Services)
- Business Intelligence. (Application Catalogue)
At the “Edge,” she explained, is the infrastructure which includes everything from consuming energies to IOT networks, sensors, substations, solar PV, and wind.
“Maybe only 50% of the energy transition is what’s really happening at that Edge — at that metal level. Where the innovation can really happen is in the Data & Services and Application Catalogue.”
Shuli named the project Bakail, after Lake Baikal, which is an ancient massive lake in Siberia. It’s the deepest lake in the world.
“When I think of power systems and I think about where we’re going, we’re going to have to build the deepest, biggest data lakes on the planet, and there’s no reason that every single one of these should be different. We really need to be able to leverage this because then we want to be able to put Business Intelligence on top of it. We’re moving from monolithic software to mico-services.”
She explained that for monolithic SCADA software systems, it could take six months to a year for a new release. What LF Energy wants to do is to take six-month releases and move them to six-day or even six-hour releases. She pointed out that this is possible and that it’s been happening in the telecommunications sector.
“We are not going to get to decarbonization by believing in some fantasy that somewhere in some country is a bunch of engineers building the future and they’re just going to throw it over the wall. That’s not happening. Nobody has the capacity to do that, so we have to learn how to actually rapidly iterate, and that is a human problem.
“I feel like the human dimensions of what it is we’re trying to solve — that is a conversation that really needs to happen,”
She explained that people are simply not prepared. She wants to create a culture of people who are willing to admit they are lost and ask questions in order to solve the carbon problem. One of the many reasons people don’t ask questions is because they are afraid of getting mocked or belittled.
Shuli pointed out that this type of planning takes years.
“I really think that when we think about the design patterns of the future, we need to be thinking 3,000 years out. Not 50 years out, but 3,000 years out. It’s like, is this going to stand up for that long or are we just creating something with more externalities?”
The final slide Shuli shared was how LF Energy identified the areas at the Edge needing to be common piping. Substations, microgrids, and demand response are all in this category.
Example Of LF Energy’s Software In Action
As an example, Shuli used one of the companies in the Business Application section, Sogno, a project that was funded by the EU in its Horizon 2020 project. Sogno is 5G ready and is the beginning of a microservices architecture that will enable utilities to begin transitioning monolithic SCADA systems to microservices.
Another company, SeaPath, is in the Edge section and is using standard virtualization and automation software. Shuli noted that SeaPath is going all the way down to the chip level so that there can be an X-86 or other kind of commodity hardware using open-source software to enable substation automation and virtualization. Shuli detailed the importance of this.
“In the United States, we have rate cases that basically privilege very large hardware purchases — like $10 million substations, that are considered to be 50–100 year purchases.
“What they’re doing is … on the path to basically create miniaturized substations that will be out at the edge. Your neighborhood may have one and they will be all over the place. The best way to think of them is as an edge node router. It’s basically sending supply and demand that are very customized around protection and ensures that voltage and power quality is regulated at the edge.”
Southern Consolidated Edison has 900 substations. Shuli explained that it should have 90,000 substations to do its job well. However, California’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will only pay for 50-year substations as opposed to commodity hardware open-sourced software that is enabling network flexibility.
Learn more about LF Energy here.
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