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Meet The Open Source OpenLEADR Project

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Guest: Stan Janssen
Organizations: LF Energy (LinkedIn, Twitter)
ElaadNL Foundation (Twitter)
Show: State of Energy

EVs are the future of transportation and innovations in this space are going to have an impact on other industries too, as most of this is driven by open source, which will help reduce our carbon footprint.

“If we can be smarter about when and how we use energy, the less reliant we’re going to be on fossil fuels and renewable energy thus bringing about the much-needed transition towards the decarbonized global economy,” opines  Stan Janssen, Technical Expert at the ElaadNL Foundation and LF Energy .

The ElaadNL Foundation was founded in 2009 by the Dutch distribution system operators with the goal to kickstart electric vehicles in the Netherlands. “We rolled out thousands of electric charging stations as some of the earliest communication protocols and the designs of those stations originated at Elaad and we are still the stewards of the worldwide used OCPP standard for electric charging stations,” says Janssen.

The last couple of years has seen the Foundation focusing on what it calls smart charging, which is to adjust the charging speeds and times to periods of optimal renewable energy use or when the grid capacity is available. ElaadNL embraced the open-source openADR project which is an established protocol for automated demand response backed by an established foundation.

ElaadNL Foundation felt that OpenADR can solve a great deal of problems for many industries, but being a very comprehensive protocol its implementation was a big stumbling block for companies and organizations. So they set out to create an open source project around OpenADR called OpenLEADR. That’s when they looked to  the Linux Foundation Energy for the creation of the project.

“We didn’t have any experience with creating open source software ourselves and that’s when we got in touch with the Linux Foundation Energy,” says Janssen. “In November of 2020, we went live with the first open source version of openLEADR under the LF Energy flag and it’s been very popular ever since.”

Check out the full discussion about the project above.

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Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi, this is host Swapnil Bhartiya and welcome to State of Energy, and our guest today is Stan Janssen, Technical Expert at ElaadNL Foundation and LF Energy. Stan, it’s great to have you on the show.

Stan Janssen: Thanks Swapnil. It’s nice to be here.

Swapnil Bhartiya: It’s the first year of openLEADR project and there is so much to talk about, but before we go there, tell us quickly, what is ElaadNL Foundation all about?

Stan Janssen: So Elaad was founded about a little over 10 years ago by the Dutch distribution system operators with the goal to kickstart electric vehicles in the Netherlands. So we rolled out thousands of electric charging stations as some of the earliest communication protocols and the designs of those stations originated at Elaad and we are still the stewards of the worldwide used OCPP standard for electric charging stations, and for the last couple of years, we’ve been focused on what we call smart charging, which is to adjust the charging speeds and times to periods of optimal renewable energy use or when the grid capacity is available. So that’s where our focus has been.

Swapnil Bhartiya: So as you said that it’s an industry-wide effort where you folks are focusing on open source, so let’s talk about openLEADR project, or let’s start with openADR. First of all, what is that project all about? Why did you decide to use that project? What kind of problem is it solving for your use case where you’re bringing all the smart vehicles into the market?

Stan Janssen: Sure. So what we’ve seen, we do a lot of projects where we test out new forms of smart charging and in all of these projects, communication is a big part. So, one computer system needs to talk to another computer system to tell them about grid capacity or renewable energy availability, and many of those projects end up building their own little communication protocols, which then can be extended and it’s non-standard and things like that. So openADR has been an established protocol for automated demand response, which is, it originated in California and it’s a very comprehensive protocol with an established foundation behind it and it allows you to be very, it’s a very flexible protocol to exchange all kinds of information, surrounding smart energy and so that’s why we decided to, for one of our projects that we did in, in 2019, to use that protocol, to see if we could finally move to a more established and a more professional level.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Now let’s talk about the openLEADR project and how is that openADR protocol fitting or working in it? Just explain, in general, what is this project all about?

Stan Janssen: So when we got started with the project where we wanted to use openADR, one of the things, of course, we needed to do as Elaad, we needed to be able to speak openADR to the project partners as well and we looked around and there weren’t any, at the time, there weren’t any ready made implementations that we could quickly use and integrate with our own systems. So we decided to build our own and, which I built at Elaad for the first time, and once we built that little module that speaks openADR, we thought this is very useful for other project partners to have as well and basically for everyone in the world to have, to get a starting point with openADR. And so that’s when we approached LF energy, the Linux Foundation Energy who bundle all kinds of these initiatives and we offered our project to say, “Hey, maybe this is something we can contribute to the world.” And that’s when openLEADR, which is openADR with the Linux Energy in there, that’s how that was born.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Yeah. Can you also talk about the Genesis, the origin, the history of the project? When was it created? Who created it? And why was it decided to be part of LF Energy?

Stan Janssen: So we created openLEADR at Elaad. I myself was involved in that as the Lead Software Developer for it. We created it because we needed a little, we needed an implementation of this openADR protocol ourselves and we used it in one of our projects and it was a great success. And then we were looking like, can we give this to other people in the industry to use? Because we noticed that implementation of these protocols can be a big stumbling block for companies or organizations and well, at Elaad, we didn’t have any experience with creating open source software ourselves and that’s when we got in touch with the Linux Foundation Energy, which was in 2020, and after we figured out that this was a match because the Linux Foundation Energy bundles many of these kinds of initiatives. In November of 2020, we went live with the first version, open source version of openLEADR under the LF Energy flag and it’s been very popular ever since.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Now, let’s talk about the community side of it. What kind of community is there around the project? Of course, you folks are there as well, because when you do talk about this problem, there are a lot of stakeholders and sometimes a project is created to solve one problem, but [inaudible 00:06:03] it ends up solving a lot of problems and then more people joining. So let’s talk about the community.

Stan Janssen: Sure. So since we’ve open sourced the openLEADR project, it has seen about 2000 downloads every month which, to me, is a great success for something that is still kind of a niche thing. From the responses that I get on our GitHub page, we see a lot of newcomers to this field, a lot of people who are new to smart energy or demand response from all kinds of different areas of this business, so there’s people managing groups of buildings, people managing electric vehicles like we are doing, people managing industrial facilities and they all want to get in to this smart energy or demand response area, and they’re finding openLEADR to be a very easy entry into that world, which to me, is a great success, that is exactly what we set out to do. We want to bring in more people. We want to lower the barrier of entry to combining electricity usage, energy usage with smart technology.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you also talk a bit about, this is kind of a higher level, big vision discussion which is more about, we hear, especially in discussions with LF Energy, a lot of focus is on decarbonization, companies are trying to cut their carbon footprint, they’re trying to move to renewable. How is this project, in whatever capacity, helping with that mission as well?

Stan Janssen: We believe that if we can be smarter about when and how we use energy, you can, for instance, match your energy usage to time of day to whenever there is, solar power or wind energy, in your area and the better we can match demand and response, the less reliant we’re going to be on fossil fuels and fossil energy, which is very important to decarbonize the economy and to get that collaboration between suppliers of energy and consumers of energy, you need a communication layer. And exactly that interface is a hard problem to solve and I think, to have a community powered implementation of an open standard is very helpful in that case because then, at least at the communication level, you know you’re going to understand each other. And then it’s all about figuring out the business cases and the use cases that you wish to communicate to each other.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. Thanks for sharing that vision there. Back to the project, of course, as you already explained, not only the Elaad has been around for 10 years, the project has been used in production already. But if I ask you from openLEADR’s perspective, it’s one year but how mature is the project? What are the things that you are working on right now? And what are the things that you are planning for the future? So it’s a threefold question.

Stan Janssen: Sure. So the version that is very now, will allow you to get started and it incorporates many of the features of openADR. There’s a few technical items that we’re still developing. For instance, the openADR protocol allows for different transport mechanisms, so HTTP and XMPP, right now, we only support the HTTP mechanism and we like to introduce XMPP support sometime next year, the same goes for even better and easier integration possibilities with existing systems. Right now, we provide a lot of hooks that developers can use but I’m getting a lot of requests for something that is even easier to get up and running, maybe something that works out of the box, which is a few configuration items to hook it up to your existing telemetry systems for example.

So those are areas that we are exploring but that’s also exactly where the community can play a big part because there are so many use cases and so many different systems that you might want to integrate with, I think this is a great opportunity for the community to step in, build those integrations and make those open source as well, so that we end up building this giant library of integration possibilities to lower the barrier of entry for even more people.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Now, as the project is now an LF Energy project, can you also talk a bit about, though there is a very established set up or governance for all Linux Foundation projects, but how is LF Energy helping you folks? Not only with the project, but also your whole mission at ElaadNL and also there are other projects at LF energy, sometimes they complement each other, as we were discussing earlier that you look at one use case and there may be more use cases, so talk about the engagement LF Energy have with your folks and how you’re leveraging other projects?

Stan Janssen: LF Energy has been great. First of all, they have a lot of expertise and experience with open sourcing your project. So that contains the very practical steps like, what kind of open source licenses should I pick? How should I steward a community of people that might want to contribute to it? They provide us with a lot of infrastructure and things like and all of those practical things. Another point is outreach. Two weeks after we introduced our project, we had worldwide seminars for Europe, the United States and Japan, where we presented our project and brought in a lot of interested people who are looking for projects in the energy seen. So it’s been practical support outreach and then of course, collaboration with these other projects within LF Energy. There are projects that concern like electricity grid automation, which DSOs might use internally.

There are projects that help you to actually monetize the flexibility that you can provide with your electric appliances, which is of course, a great match for openLEADR, which is a project that allows you to send signals but then, what is the flexibility worth? So there’s a project that focuses on that and it’s been just this very vibrant and very strong community of professionals coming together to deliver these kinds of solutions in an open source and in a free and collaborative manner. So it’s been a very positive experience and openLEADR is that much better and that much more wide reaching because of it.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. Thank you Stan for taking time out today and talking about not only, of course, the openLEADR project, but also ElaadNL and sharing your vision of how these projects are actually helping cut down on our carbon footprints. Thanks for sharing all those insights and I would love to have you back on the show. Thank you.

Stan Janssen: Thanks a lot. It’s been my pleasure.

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