Research and Development

Open-Source Technology Benefits Transmission and Distribution Operators

The term “open source” is well-recognized in the technology world, but may not be as widely understood in other sectors. What open source means is that the software code is publicly available so that anyone can contribute to the code base and create add-on extensions. This enables the growth of a market of providers that can offer hosting and add-on functionalities that can be utilized by all users.

In the energy sector, LF Energy has taken a leading role in facilitating the development of open-source technology. LF Energy is part of The Linux Foundation, which is the umbrella organization for more than 425 open-source projects. Among LF Energy’s projects are platforms that help automate demand response; assist electricity, water, and other utility operators in managing systems; monitor and control microgrids and other distribution assets; and perform dynamic power flow simulations, among other things.

Arjan Stam, director of System Operations with Alliander (a distribution system operator [DSO] in the Netherlands), and Lucian Balea, research and development program director and open-source manager with RTE (a transmission system operator [TSO] in France), were guests on The POWER Podcast and explained how open-source technology is being used by their companies.

“We are talking about applications that would help assist the grid operators in operational control rooms to manage the power system in real time. We are talking about applications that help us to simulate the behavior of the power system to make sure that we can operate under safe conditions. We are talking about application that would increase the automation of the power grid so that the grid can react automatically in an optimized manner,” Balea, who is also the board chair for LF Energy, said.

Stam, who is also an LF Energy governing board member, said DSOs are less experienced than TSOs when it comes to managing energy flows on the grid. He suggested it’s hard to start from scratch in developing greater power management capabilities. “It’s really helpful if you can find an example that you can use to build this new capability,” said Stam. With open source, that’s what Alliander found.

“We needed also new applications, and also the knowledge you need, and standardization you need, and interoperability you need,” said Stam. “The best way to build that and to create it is with other parties that have the same challenges. And that’s what we found in working with open source. So, it delivered us quite a lot.”

Stam suggested open-source technology can also help speed the transition to renewable energy. In order to increase the level of renewable energy in the system, he said, “we need quite specialized applications that are not yet really available in the market.” However, by teaming up with other companies that have the same needs, development of the technology can happen more quickly. “And that’s actually what’s happening in open source,” Stam said.

“Open source has to be seen as an accelerator. That’s the lesson that we learned from the experience of other industries,” Balea said, specifically mentioning cloud services as an example. He said by relying on open-source collaboration, cloud services technology was built and scaled very quickly.

“In LF Energy, we apply this open-source acceleration lever to a great cause, that is, the energy transition,” Balea said. “If we look at the projects that we have, they are all guided by the need to adapt to a future energy system that will have to cope with a high share of distributed renewable energy resources.”

To hear the full interview, which includes more about LF Energy projects and how interested parties can get involved in the collaboration, listen to The POWER Podcast. Click on the SoundCloud player below to listen in your browser now or use the following links to reach the show page of your favorite podcast platform:

For more power podcasts, visit The POWER Podcast archives.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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