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LF Energy’s New Open Source Project Helps Optimize Grid Capacity

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Vattenfall AB is a Swedish energy company that serves many parts of Europe. The company is fast evolving to embrace emerging technologies and renewable energy sources to reduce its own carbon footprint.

As the consumption of energy is growing, the company is looking at modern, software-driven technologies to optimize its grids so that power is available when and where it is needed.

Traditionally, like many other companies, Vattenfall has not been a software company, but they do realize the importance of digitalization and role of software, especially open source software, in the modern world.

“Software is more of a necessity rather than a business, but also I think more and more companies see the value of developing software together,” says Harald Klomp, Hub Manager at Vattenfall, talking about the role of open source.

Vincent Gliniewicz, Lead Data Strategist at Vattenfall, sees open source solving another major problem that’s standardization. He argues that traditionally, it takes way too long to agree on international standards, which means companies can’t move and react faster to needs.

Open source, in his opinion, speeds up the standardization process. “It [open source] could help generate a discussion, create a project where people can get active and engaged, and, through that, reach a better agreement,” says Gliniewicz.

The company recently joined the LF Energy foundation and created an open source project called the Grid Capacity Map, which aims to provide early capacity indication for grid connection needs in different grid locations and time.

The project helps energy companies access capacity faster and be more proactive in the dialogue with the customers to help them find space in the system.

Check the whole discussion in the video above.

Key highlights from this video interview are:

  • Gliniewicz discusses why Vattenfall decided to join LF Energy and the company’s motivations in joining the initiative.
  • Software is not Vattenfall’s core business, being a power utility. Klomp explains why it is beneficial for companies to develop software together, particularly when there may not be a solution available to buy on the market.
  • Klomp explains the role open source plays in the energy industry and its benefits. Gliniewicz discusses the challenges with international standards and how open source is helping to accelerate the standardization process.
  • Klomp explains the Grid Capacity Map they are working on and the methodology behind it. Gliniewicz discusses how it can help energy companies faster access capacity and be more proactive in the dialogue with the customers to help them find when there is more place to better leverage the system that the company builds for everybody and to allow them to start their electrification journey faster.
  • Gliniewicz details the potential users for the Grid Capacity Map and for what purposes they may use it. He discusses what stage the project is at now and what they are focusing on at the moment to get it ready for production release.
  • Vattenfall would like to invite other grid companies who need to do grid capacity calculation to join LF Energy. They also feel that grid calculation software providers would also benefit from the project, helping to improve the quality of the calculations.

Learn more about LF Energy (LinkedIn, Twitter)

Connect with Harald Klomp (LinkedIn) | Vincent Gliniewicz (LinkedIn)

The summary of the show is written by Emily Nicholls.

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Here is the automated and unedited transcript of the recording. Please note that the transcript has not been edited or reviewed. 

Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi, this is your host, Swapnil Bhartiya, and welcome to the State of Energy show. And today we have two guests from Vattenfall Eldistribution AB, Harald Klomp, Hub Manager and Vincent Gliniewicz, Lead Data Strategist. Vincent, Harald, it’s great to have you on the show.

Vincent Gliniewicz: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

Harald Klomp: Yes. Glad to be here.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Thanks for joining us. Now, I want to learn a bit about the company. Can you tell us what Vattenfall Eldistribution is all about?

Vincent Gliniewicz: Vattenfall is a Swedish utility company with both generation transmission or distribution, and also sales. It’s mostly located in Sweden, but also in Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, and also in the UK.

Harald Klomp: I work for the distribution company owned by Vattenfall, but we operate independently because we own and operate medium voltage grids that cover about 50% of Swedish population. About three quarters of the industry is connected to our medium voltage grids, and we connect both the industry customers, but also generation to our grids, and we connect all different companies, not only Vattenfall generation, but also competitors to Vattenfall, so that requires us, of course, to be impartial when it comes to who… Because we have an obligation to connect everybody to the grids, we have to treat everybody equally. And then we also own local distribution grids, low voltage grids, and there we connect about a quarter of the Swedish population.

Swapnil Bhartiya: You folks joined LF Energy last year. Tell us why you joined and what projects are you bringing or what projects are you working on in the open source space?

Vincent Gliniewicz: The new vision of Vattenfall is to power climate smarter living, and for this, we have two choices. Either we only focus on our customers and we have a specific impact, or we try to reach beyond our normal business and from this, joining this kind of initiative like Linux Foundation, everything we do could have a much greater impact in fossil free within one generation, for example. So that’s one argument for why we choose to join Linux Foundation Energy.

And the other from the distribution company is also that there are very natural monopolies, so there’s no real competition or competitive advantage to gain in not sharing, actually, it’s only better for us if we share and if we manage to reach standardized solutions to help the entire society become better at being electrified. So it’s more like we are actually responsible for it and where we see we can help and help everybody and help ourselves at the same time, and it makes sense to join.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you talk about what kind of open source efforts are there at Vattenfall?

Harald Klomp: We’re quite new to the… I mean we’re foremost a power grid company, distribution, and of course, Vattenfall as a company is a power utility, so software is not something we… Is not our core business. So it’s more software is more a necessity rather than a business, but also I think more and more companies see the value of developing software together, especially when it’s not your competitors and when there’s maybe not a solution to buy from the market, or the software that’s available might not exactly suit your niche needs.

We are still a niche market that maybe globally there’s a few hundred companies like us, so it’s a small world, so we need… There’s not always software that we can buy for our specific needs. And I think this is a example, which we’re developing now, is looking at grid capacity calculations, where we are looking at now trying to develop this together with other utilities. And there we both get the advantage of when it’s open source it can develop faster, and also we can… The validation of the methodology is easier because we can share the code with other utilities, they can check our calculations, the way we have implemented the algorithms, and they can give feedback and even patch the code and upload an improved version. So we can much quicker get to the desired end results by doing this collaboratively, rather than doing this on our own.

But, that said, we are quite new to doing open source development, so we are really here. And that’s also, of course, the advantage with using the Linux Foundation Energy, that Linux Foundation is an expert on open source software development. We are experts on our business, so by joining forces with somebody who knows software development, really that’s a win-win.

Vincent Gliniewicz: The distribution business, we actually are very used to sharing and being open through standards, so for a very long time we’ve been engaged in Vattenfall, especially in the development and refinement of technical specification, technical requirements, and standards. The problem usually is the implementation of standards that then is very slow, and we see open source as a way also to speed up the standardization process, not maybe through the, let’s say, technical or intellectual way, more like from a practical point of view, we can create defacto standards, not just really well refined standards, but standard requirements that everybody can read and understand and refine. So, working together for standard solutions, more than just standard specifications.

Swapnil Bhartiya: What role do you see open source plays in industry like that you operate in, where it makes it easier for folks? As you said, it has to be practical implementation of standards not just specifications on paper.

Harald Klomp: Yeah, but it also becomes like to agree on different methodology, so how to calculate, for example, like we’re doing in agreed capacity map, like we’re doing capacity calculations. So how do you come up with the number X? This is the amount of headroom available in this grid location. So to have a industry agreed methodology, and then, of course, implement it in code that we can use.

Vincent Gliniewicz: The problem with international standards is that they are… To become standards, we need an agreement internationally, which may take a long time. And right now, with electrification going at such a pace, we cannot maybe wait for the standard to be completely written and set in stone before we start to look at implementation. So we also see this kind of open source path as also way to maybe speed up the standardization process. It could be just generate a discussion, create a project where people can get active and engaged, and, through that, reach a better agreement. Because we see, okay, the value’s there, let’s agree on something is better than disagree on something.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Now, I want to go a bit deeper into the grid capacity map, tell us, what is this all about?

Harald Klomp: There’s a need to understand what is the available headroom at different locations, both for feeding… When we talk about location, it’s electrical grid somewhere that you want to connect, either generation or consumption, and then the amount of available capacity in that location is then, of course, important when you want to either connect generation or production.

In the background there’s a lot of calculations required to arrive at a number of available capacity in that location. And then, of course, it’s all dependent on what other connections are happening. So, if there’s X available in one location, there’s Y available in another location, it all depends who connects first what will be then left for the others to connect. But to come up with a nationwide or grid wide map calculations of the grid capacity, and to develop a methodology, that’s really been the goal of this effort that we’ve been doing now.

And then of course comes the question, okay, what we do with this information? But that’s still not decided, what we do once we have these capacity calculations, how will we use it internally, if we’ll use it maybe externally, that this is to be decided, and I guess that’s going to be basically up to each grid company that uses this methodology to decide. And you can also… It depends also what you feed with. It can be either capacity right now, maybe next hour, next day, in 10 years. So there’s also a time aspect when it comes to capacity calculations that you need to consider. But the methodology should be the same.

Vincent Gliniewicz: Basically the electrical grid is very meshed and we have very well working processes for a reactive workflow. So if a customer ask us, “Can I connect there?”, we have the tools and the work processes to be able to answer that pretty well, and we will do all these checks to make sure that the connection is secure, it’s not causing any odd problems for the other customers. We can make sure that if we grant you access to that connection, you will get everything you’re asking for.

This is the way our customers used to ask of us, very slow process and the industry will take a long time to build, so we had time to maybe reinforce the grid at the same time that the industry was being built.

Nowadays, there are a lot more industries joining, some with very quick ramping time. For example, charging stations. We can develop a charging station within a few maybe weeks or month, fully operational, so all that’s needed is a connection. But then we might not have time to reinforce the grid at the same time.

But they might not be as picky as we think they are. They might be willing to relocate their request to a place where there is space or there is faster access to capacity. So, for us, the grid capacity map is a way to show and a way to be more proactive in the dialogue with the customers to help them find place, find space, in the system. We know the system, there are a lot of information that might be pretty sensitive. We cannot share how everything is interrelated, interconnected, but we can help the customer find when there is more place to better leverage, to better use, the system that we build for everybody and to allow them to start their electrification journey faster.

Instead of waiting for a connection that may take three years in place A, maybe they can do it in place B in one year instead.

Harald Klomp: Maybe as a background, we anticipate… The last 40 years we’ve been a steady state, so very little growth, but now in the next 15, 20 years, we anticipate a doubling of the amount of grid connections to our grid. So a substantial growth ahead of us. And then we also need to try, if possible, to try and accommodate those connections in places where we already have capacity or where we can easily add capacity, rather than places where it’s maybe very long lead times.

It’s all driven by, of course, the will to move away from fossil fuels. And the methodology to get rid of fossil fuel is usually to electrify transportation, industrial processes. So that’s driving the demand for grid connections.

Swapnil Bhartiya: We are also moving towards solar. You also mentioned EV chargers, which is also that by putting solar roof or a battery in my house, I am also becoming a producer. I am putting electricity back in the grid. So whole way the grid used to work was, the flow of electrons was in one direction, now my provider buys electricity back from me and gives me credit back, which also means the way grid operate is also changing. So does this grid capacity map also emerge to solve this problem also because the way we are consuming distribution changing?

Vincent Gliniewicz: The goal was to cover both generation and consumption, so demand and generation. Then the first step, the grid capacity map, we don’t look at all the fold management. So it’s a snapshot that might not be perfect nor complete, but the goal is indeed to cover both, to, by being proactive, help the connection of production. Both wind power, solar power could be acceptance. So penetration, PV penetration, or demand. So, yes, both.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Who are potential users of grid capacity map?

Vincent Gliniewicz: There is the internal user of the open source code will be utilities, that they would run the code on their own data in order to generate a grid capacity layer that they can show on a map. So that’s the internal user, the user of the tool. But the beneficiary of the tools are the users of the grid, which mean new companies that want to have an early indication on where and whether or not it’s possible to connect. It might be the government trying to create electrification roadmap. In Sweden, for example, the government would love to have capacity estimations along the highways to understand where we want to suggest or where we would want to finance electrification hubs. Could be municipalities trying to, can we afford to attract a new energy intensive businesses, or are we just shooting ourselves in the food? So there are both there we have.

Internally, it’s utilities that want to be more proactive, and they will be able to use these open source software code to extract this knowledge from their data, but it’s to be proactive towards the electrical needs of the utility users.

Swapnil Bhartiya: What is the state of this project right now? How mature it is? Can, as you said, utilities can start using it? And second is that, what are the things that you are planning for future?

Vincent Gliniewicz: We’ve had a first proof of concept through R&D just to look at whether or not it is feasible. We have leveraged a lot of open source libraries just to test that, and so that’s the first release that’s right now on the grid capacity map, Linux Foundation, GitHub. So it’s not production worthy, but it’s, I would say, a great documentation for developer to develop a production worthy, or a near production worthy, tool. And this is what we are actually currently doing, so we provided this code to a developer to make it more suitable for production needs.

What’s being released is pre-production, more like alpha release, and what’s in the pipe right now is more like a beta, much closer to production release.

Swapnil Bhartiya: If you look at Linux Foundation, LF Energy, it’s already a very, very active community of this sector. So what kind of developers you would be interested in, “Hey, come and join our project.” So if I say, “Hey, call for action,” who would you invite to join and contribute or test the project?

Harald Klomp: I would invite other grid companies to join that have a need to do grid capacity calculations for their customers.

Vincent Gliniewicz: I will also invite the grid calculation software providers too, because what we’re doing is more or less an API wrapped around an already existing grid calculation or open source grid calculation tool. So, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, grid calculation is the way it is and it’s standardized calculations that have always been the same for a long time. What we’re trained to do is find new ways to automate some calculations to provide useful information to our customers. So both utilities that might provide data or new use cases that we want to capture in this grid capacity map, and also people with strong power flow analysis and knowledge that can maybe help improve the calculations, the quality.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Harald, Vincent, thank you so much for taking time out today and talk about this project and how it’s solving a much larger problem, as Vincent, you talked about the fossil fuel, move away from there and move more towards the sustainable sources of energy. But thanks for sharing those insights, and I would love to have you back on the show when we have more working and mature version of this project ready. But thanks for your time today.

Vincent Gliniewicz: Thank you for having us.

Harald Klomp: Thank you. And we look forward to it. We’ll be back.

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