In this clip from the second episode of our series State of Energy, presented by the LF Energy Foundation, I asked Lucian Balea, R&D Program Director and Open Source Manager at RTE, whether companies like RTE could combat climate change on their own without relying on politics. The question stems from the fact that companies do tend to change their approach depending on the political party in power. He feels that a lot can be done outside of politics through organizations like LF Energy. Check out his response above.
Swapnil Bhartiya: Lucian, you brought up the point of the Paris agreement. It has become a political topic, whereas science is telling us that we need to do something urgently. What can industries do to address this crisis, irrespective of political views of countries? Companies do it all the time. For example, Apple protect the privacy of its user, even if there are no such laws in the US to do so. So what can power sector do to address this crisis on its own?
Lucian Balea: So for sure, the political agreement and the top-down approach will be important. And we understand that it’ll be hard work for the COP26 to reach such kind of political agreement up to the challenges. But at the same time, we also believe that bottom-up approach is, such as LF Energy that are running today based on voluntary actions are important as well. This is because it is often said that devil is in the details and such initiatives already today they are discussing and solving many details.
And we strongly believe that sharing forces and brains today will help us to be in a better position tomorrow because the changes that we are talking about are huge transformations. So anticipating on a voluntary basis as an industry is something very important.
Swapnil Bhartiya: You emphasize the importance of collaboration to tackle this crisis. There is a lot of collaboration that is already happening within industries. Open source does help a lot in bringing a lot of people from different industries together to collaborate on the areas they normally could not. So can you talk about the role of open source, and specifically the role of LF Energy in bringing company like RTE, Alliander and many more together to work on some problems?
Arjan Stam: So then we have to start with a little bit of history. So Alliander is changing rapidly to give shape to the energy transition. One of the things we did as a DSO is started a department that’s called system operations, so actively doing the energy management, so the smart solutions operating on the grid.
But deciding to do that is something different than realized. So the tasks, in order to get energy management operational in such a huge grid with so much history, is a really big task. So in order to understand what we had to do, we didn’t have the knowledge to do that because from a static grid, it became suddenly a dynamic system that needs its control.
We didn’t have any experience on dynamic system control or stochastic system control, whatever you want to call it. Also, having solutions that involves customers actively because that’s basically what we’re doing. We didn’t have any experience with that either.
So what we needed was experience, knowledge, vision on how to do that. And we discovered a little bit of the world and we found out that the TSOs in general are slightly more developed into that area. So for us it was really interesting to reach out to TSOs for collaboration. And then is the question, yeah, where do you do that? Because you can approach any TSO and then look for collaboration but it has to be a mutual advantage, of course.
And then we run into the Linux Foundation community and we had discussions, and then we found basically a sort of common denominator in what we wanted to achieve. The only problem was we didn’t speak, actually, the same language immediately. But having a discussion and going over multiple topics that we needed to address both the TSOs and DSOs, so in this case, Alliander and RTE, we found out that we are actually doing more or less of the same things, if you look at it functionally, and that we more or less also had the same ambitions and goals.
So the conversation converged actually to how can we collaborate on these topics that will work for both of us? And there it’s all started. So there we found each other on the same mental model, because that’s really important. And you think in the same direction, it doesn’t have to be identical, but at least in the same direction, more or less the same ambitions and the same need to develop and build applications that help us start managing, actually, energy transition.
And that’s what happens. So then we found each other on collaborations and, well, RTE already had a long history in doing open source more than Alliander did. So there were a number of applications available already that RTE open sourced already. And it were very interesting for us because we wanted to speed up our development effort, but we had a choice in either doing it all ourselves or utilizing what’s already there and start working together on making it better on what already is available.
So there are a number of projects that we work together and we developed together, although we are different type of companies. And it works out very well, Lucian always calls it the common plumbing, and that works. Because one of the things he said for example, OperatorFabric, is an application in which you can visualize the status of your energy system, actually. Well, we first started working together with one developer that we put forward to help building on the roadmap of OperatorFabric. And now visualization is one of the key topics in our roadmap.
So we put a whole team on it and start working with OperatorFabric and developing it further together again with RTE and bringing value for both of the companies by just investing. And I think that’s the key to being successful and making speed in this energy transition, is that you don’t reinvent all kind of things, but you reuse what’s already available and build on top of it. Because, yeah, it helps you speed up in your first steps. And secondly, when you continue development, everybody benefits from it. And that’s what we need in this era of change in order, yeah, to be functional and helpful in the CO2 reduction.