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LF Energy Open Source Projects: SOGNO

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Guest: Antonello Monti
Organization: RWTH Aachen University
Show: LF Energy Open Source Projects

SOGNO (Service-based Open-source Grid automation platform for Network Operation of the future) is a former European Union initiative which is now hosted at the Linux Foundation. In this series on LF Energy Open Source Projects, we sat down with Antonello Monti, Professor at the RWTH Aachen University, to learn more about the project.

The project started out being funded within the Horizon 2020 Project – European Commission, which are projects where industries and universities work together on developing what is called research and innovation action. These projects evolve from a basic development to university level to industry-level projects. As for the SOGNO project, it targeted the need for distribution grid operators to have a new platform for grid automation. This has become necessary in the European Union because in the past the level of automation was limited. According to Monti, “That’s where the need for a modular platform became quite clear.”

But what exactly is a service-based, grid automation platform? Monti explains it like so: “If you take the automation, there are several functions that may be needed for the grid operator. And depending on the grid operator, you may have a different selection of those functions. One example of this function can be state estimation and each of those services or these functions are organized from a software perspective as microservices that are integrated into a common database. This common database can be created with different solutions, for example, using MQTT or using Kafka. But the idea is this modern, microservices-based concept in which different services access the same database.”

SOGNO was open source from the beginning, so they only had to streamline their licensing to be certain that all components were coherent from a licensing perspective, which is very important to the Linux Foundation. Originally, the SOGNO community only included the original European projects. Since falling under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation, the community now includes partners from America and Canada. Joining the Linux Foundation also gave SOGNO a much more global perspective, which also increased the possibility of having global standard solutions.

Another important point, brought up by Monti, is that this move also allows them to continue to feed the platform with other projects. To that, Monti says, “I’m coordinating another European project called Platone (PLATform for Operation of distribution NEtworks) which is using the SOGNO platform.” He adds, “Some of the new components that are part of the work in Platone would be integrated into the LF Energy project in the future. So there are different ways to feed the open-source platform, thanks to other funding also coming from other sources.”

As to expanding the community, Monti makes it clear SOGNO is growing with other organizations getting involved, such as RSA (a research institution in Italy), the University of Alberta, and other major vendors that are a part of the Linux Foundation.

When talking about the future of SOGNO, Monti mentions Ericsson, a major provider of 5G technology. He says, “One idea is the platform could be run in the base stations, so on the edge or in the cloud, directly embedded in the 5G network. Under that vision, the telecom operator could be the one physically owning the platform and providing the platform as a service to a grid operator. So there are two business models that we envisioned, one in which the grid operator keeps complete ownership of the platform and the second one in which the grid operator works in close cooperation with a telecom operator and the telecom operator provides the IT infrastructure and the software on top.”

Here is an edited transcript of our discussion:

Swapnil Bhartiya: I’m your host Swapnil Bhartiya. And my next guest is Antonello Monti, Professor at the RWTH Aachen University, and today we are going to talk about SOGNO. First of all, Antonello, it’s great to have you back on the show.

Antonello Monti: Thank you. My pleasure as well.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Let’s start with the history of the project as well as the name and the acronym. It originated as a European Union project, but later it became a Linux Foundation-hosted project. So please tell us the history of the project?

Antonello Monti: The project was originally funded within the so-called Horizon 2020 Project – European Commission. So these are typical projects, where industries and universities worked together on developing what are called a research and innovation action. What it means is that we take technology from basic development to university level and try to bring it up closer to application with industry and SOGNO targeted the need for distribution grid operators to have a new concept of platform. We have to keep in mind that with the penetration of renewables significantly growing day by day in Europe and also in other parts of the world, the distribution grid operators are significantly changing and they need a new concept for grid automation. They actually need grid automation, because in the past, their level of automation was rather limited… was moving from a passive to an active distribution network. And that’s where the need of a modular platform became quite clear.

And that’s what the commission recognized while selecting our proposal for a project. Now to stress the role within the Linux Foundation, we changed the interpretation of the acronym to become Service-based Open-source Grid automation platform for Network Operation of the future. So, we keep the same philosophy, but we increase the stress on the fact that it is an open-source architecture. What is critical here is also the first part of the name service-based, because the architecture is based on microservices. So the idea is really to have a modular concept in which different services can be plugged in into the same database.

Swapnil Bhartiya: What do you mean by it’s now a service-based, opensource grid automation platform? Can you go a bit deeper into the tech aspect? 

Antonello Monti: So what we mean is, if you take the automation, there are several functions that may be needed for the grid operator. And depending on the grid operator, you may have a different selection of those functions. One example of this function can be state estimation and each of those services or these functions are organized from a software perspective as microservices. They’re microservices that are integrated in a common database and this common database can be created with different solutions, for example, using MQTT or using Kafka. But the idea is always this modern, microservices-based concept in which different services access the same database.

Swapnil Bhartiya: When the project moved into the Linux Foundation, how did the project evolve or change or what kind of impact it had on the community? And then we can also talk about what kind of governance is there for the project under the Linux Foundation?

Antonello Monti: Yeah. Well, we were open source to begin with, so we only had to streamline our licensing to be sure that all the components are coherent from a license perspective. This is something really important within the Linux Foundation and the community expanded. Originally, only the partners of the project in the European original project were involved. Now we have more partners also from America. So for example, from Canada or from the US, we have EPRI for example, as partner we have University in Canada, involved with us and we are expanding even further. So the value of bringing this to the Linux Foundation is related to upscaling the community and going beyond the limit of Europe and because at the end of the project, those problems, the one we want to address with this platform, are actually worldwide. So distribution grids are more or less the same in the different countries.

And the Linux Foundation allows us to have a global perspective, which increases the possibility to have standard solutions globally, which reduces costs at the end and is also beneficial for the implementation. For the government’s perspective, we are organized as any other Linux Foundation project. So we have a technical board coordinated by one person working in my research group, Dr. Marcus Mills. We have periodic meetings in which we define the next steps and next components and evolution needed for the platforms and everything obviously is managing the committee, so let me say from a democratic sense. The other important point is that we are still feeding the platform with other projects. So currently, I’m coordinating another European project called Platone and some of the new components. Platone is fully using the SOGNO platform and some of the new components that are part of the work in Platone would be integrated in the LFE project in the future. So there are different ways to feed the open-source platform, thanks to other funding also coming from other sources.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you talk about how the community has grown and who are the core contributors to the project?

Antonello Monti: RWTH Aachen University is the main contributor because we originally developed the platforms. We have some of them as the partner we had in the original project, still involved, like Aprea which was a partner in the SOGNO project. We have some new coming from the other project, Platone, RSA, which is a research institution in Italy. But we also have the University Of Alberta that is vice versa, a partner from Canada, as I was mentioning before. Right now, we are also expecting a growing role of industry involved, so grid operators that are planning to use the platform are considering entering the project. And also some of the major vendors that are part of the Linux foundation see this platform as an interesting opportunity. So we are a rather young community, but we expect in less than a year or two to grow very significantly, because a lot of key possible partners declare very strong interests for the initiative.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you also talk a bit about what other open source projects do you, as a SOGNO project, leverage either from the Linux Foundation or LF Energy or from other open source foundations of projects?

Antonello Monti: We deliver the project in terms of containers. So we use open-source container technology within the SOGNO project. We use open source for the MQTT from  Kafka, so all those components are coherent, open source licenses that build the architecture. On top of this, let me say part of the operating system or the platform, then we provide in the SOGNO concept, the specific power engineering related services. For instance, they can be fault location identification, state estimation and so on, which are really specific, but we don’t reinvent the wheel. So creating this architecture based on microservices is not unique to power engineering. So we use things that are already successful in the market, like the one I mentioned before.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Looking from the tech side or from the source core side of the product side, what does the project look like?

Antonello Monti: Here we have a variety of situation types of release, because we have the release within the Linux foundation. And also, we have the release within the Platone project. So for the Platone project, we have a release of the platform coming very soon, because we have some demonstration projects that will adopt the SOGNO platform in the real field before the end of the year. And so these are coming very soon. We provide our full installation, so that you can download the container and run. So, that’s what we provide on GitHub. It’s not a chore to restart, compile and adapt, but you just take the images container, and it’s ready to go with different configuration of services already enabled.

Swapnil Bhartiya: When we look at the service-based, grid automation platform, what are some of the major challenges that you’re seeing today in the market? Because as we have had this decision a couple of times before, the whole energy sector is transforming, the digital transformation is happening, the way we consume electricity or we’re becoming producers is changing. So talk about what are the challenges Sonyo project is tackling and what are the challenges that you look at? 

Antonello Monti: Well, what we are tackling as a challenge is the need to have software solutions, which are scalable and they can fulfill the need to be active at the edge. With the users becoming the key element, the key player in the electrical grid, the focus of the action is moving to the edge and the automation should do the same. And SOGNO has a scalable platform and also the platform that can be deployed in a distributed fashion, so you can have multiple instances in several substations and organize them and articles. So they have the version of centralized in the virtual distributed, both really possible. It really fits this requirement. So in that respect, I think we are tackling the key questions right now on the evolution of the distribution grid. On the other hand, as a philosophy and concept, it is really a revolution for the sector.

We are used to having energy for the automation, monolithic platform, centralized provided by a single vendor. While what we provide here is completely open, scalable solutions, not necessarily centralized; this is definitely modular. Modular means not only that I can pick the components I want, but also that within the same platform, I can have different providers of software from different vendors. These are concepts that are normal in the IT field, but are perceived as revolutionary in the energy scenario. And the big challenge here is to convince the grid operator first. This is the way to go to build a rapidly growing and fast growing automation concept for the distribution grid. On the other end, we have to make the major vendor understand that this should not be perceived as a threat, but as the only way to speed up the innovation as we need to tackle the challenges in the grid.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Who is the consumer or user of this product? Are we talking about the distribution companies or the producers?

Antonello Monti: I think the major customer would be the distribution grid operator directly, so they can have their own instance of the platform running in the control room or distributed at the edge in their substations. There is also another form of running this platform, which is, when we started the project, this was done in cooperation with Ericsson. So, Ericsson is a major provider of 5G  technology. One idea is the platform could be run in the base stations, so on the edge or in the cloud, directly embedded in the 5G network. Under that vision, the telecom operator could be the one physically owning the platform and providing the platform as a service to a grid operator. So there are two business models that we envisioned, one in which the grid operator keeps complete ownership of the platform and the second one in which the grid operator works in close cooperation with a telecom operator and the telecom operator provides the IT infrastructure and the software on top. So, it’s a full software as a service and that now commission as a service that a telecom could embrace simply.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Thank you so much for taking time out today to explain this project in depth. And as I said earlier, I would love to have you back on the show and, as you mentioned, a new release would be coming out later this year so we would love to discuss that release as well. 

Antonello Monti: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to be with you today and thank you for your questions.

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