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Open Source Can Help Decarbonize Power Systems | Audrey Lee, Microsoft

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“We want to collaborate and explore how digitalization and open source technology can help us decarbonize our power systems.” — Audrey Lee

Guest: Audrey Lee
Company: Microsoft
Show: Let’s Talk

The world around us is transforming. It’s being digitized. The modern economy is literally software driven, running through clouds and data centers. Our growing reliance on digital technology has undeniably increased our appetite for energy in all its forms.

Energy Sector Going Through Its Own Transformation
As a result, the energy sector is going through its own transformation, embracing commodity hardware and open source technologies. Microsoft is one of those companies that sits at the confluence of these transformations — on the one hand they are cutting down their own carbon footprint, while on the other hand they are also helping build technologies that cater to the needs of the energy sector.

Microsoft recently joined LF Energy, a Linux Foundation project that is leading the energy transition through global open-source collaboration.

Having worked in the energy sector for over 15 years, Audrey Lee, Senior Director of Energy Strategy at Microsoft, has been a witness to these changes. “I think the energy system has gotten much more complex with not just the centralized distribution structure, but customers participating in distributed energy resources as well as the electricity grid,” avers Lee.

Why Microsoft Joined LF Energy
Lee’s team is responsible not only for ensuring that Microsoft data centers get interconnected to the electricity grid, but also for negotiating those energy supply agreements, and procuring clean electricity through power purchase agreements. “I joined Microsoft because I believe technology is integral to our daily life, from medical care to education, from our smart appliances to our mobile connectivity, and data and data centers are the heart of that technology dependence, and they power Microsoft’s Cloud Services,” says Lee. “Data takes energy and I love working at that intersection between data infrastructure and energy infrastructure.”

As a member of 23 plus Linux Foundation projects, considering Microsoft’s commitment to clean energy, it was inevitable that the company would join LF Energy. As an existing member of the Linux Foundation efforts, Microsoft is building open source technologies  with its customers, partners, and the computing community. “We believe we can do more,” adds Lee. “When it comes to Linux Foundation Energy specifically, Microsoft is very focused on creating a sustainable future, built on our software and cloud engineering,” quips Lee.

How Microsoft Can Help The Energy Sector
According to Lee, not only is Microsoft “working to decarbonize its own operations, but we’re also working to help decarbonize the entire electricity grid, that’s where we can help make a big impact.” Lee says, “We want to collaborate and explore how digitalization and open source technology can help us decarbonize our power systems.”

Lee hopes that Microsoft’s contribution can help scale some of the solutions being offered. To put this into context, Lee brings up Microsoft’s sustainability goals, “At Microsoft, we recognize how important it is for us to take urgent climate action. And we hope that our example inspires others. We’re committed to sourcing 100% of our energy from renewables by 2025. Microsoft has been carbon neutral since 2012, and we’re on a path to become carbon negative by 2030, across our scope one, two, and three emissions.” Even better, Microsoft plans, by 2050, to remove all of the carbon it has emitted since the company was founded in 1975. This is all part of the company’s new 100/100/0 commitment to sustainability.

But Microsoft can’t control the outcome by themselves, which is where organizations like LF Energy become very important. To that, Lee says, “We’re customers on the grid, we can’t control how our electricity is generated, but we can work with other customers and energy companies to influence the way we purchase our electricity. And then, we can work to decarbonize the entire grid.”

Energy sector is a heavily regulated space with only a few very big players. The transformation of this sector, considering its gargantuan size is even more challenging than the transformation of industries like telcos.

But Lee believes that organizations like LF Energy are really helpful in thinking through some of the regulatory aspects as well and what needs to change. “We can only do that by talking to each other and working together, understanding the technology and understanding a lot of the constraints that utilities operate under,” Lee concludes.

The summary of the show is written by Jack Wallen


Here is the rough, unedited transcript of the show:

Swapnil Bhartiya: This is your host, Swapnil Bhartiya, and welcome to TFiR Let’s Talk. Microsoft recently joined the Linux Foundation Energy Project. To talk about Microsoft’s involvement with the foundation, we have with us today, Audrey Lee, Senior Director of Energy Sector at Microsoft. Audrey, it’s great to have you on the show.

Audrey Lee: Thank you Swapnil. It’s great to be here.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Let’s quickly learn about your own background. What do you do at Microsoft, within your role as Energy Strategy at Microsoft?

Audrey Lee: I lead energy, strategy and the data center and energy sustainability team. Our team is responsible for ensuring that data centers get interconnected to the electricity grid, and negotiating those energy supply agreements, procuring clean electricity through power purchase agreements. I joined Microsoft because I believe technology is integral to our daily life, from medical care to education, from our smart appliances to our mobile connectivity, and data and data centers are the heart of that technology dependence, and they power Microsoft’s Cloud services. And so, data takes energy and I just, I love working at that intersection between data infrastructure and energy infrastructure.

So, my specific role, at Microsoft, is coordinating that global regulatory and policy work, to make it happen, but also advancing our technology roadmap. And then, exploring commercial opportunities that leverage our learnings, on the data center side, and solutions that we’ve come up with, and help our customers through their sustainability journeys, as well.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Energy sector itself has changed with the arrival of a lot of renewables. A lot of people are not just consumers, they’re also producing, because they are putting energy back in the grid itself. So, and a lot of movement is going on, all the data centers also becoming more and more green. So, can you talk about from your perspective, what have you seen? How the energy sector has changed and evolved?

Audrey Lee: Yeah. And, I’ve been working in the energy sector for over 15 years at least, and have seen a lot of these changes, which are really exciting. I think the energy system has gotten much more complex as you say, with not just the centralized distribution structure, but customers participating in distributed energy resources, participating in the electricity grid. And so, it takes technology. And this goes back to what I said about that intersection between the energy infrastructure and the data infrastructure, and how it’s such a foundation for our lives.

But there’s so much complexity that I think we need to advance more in that digitalization. And I think this is where Linux Foundation plays a really important role. We can’t, Microsoft can’t do it alone, customers can’t do it alone and utilities, I don’t think can do it alone either. We really need to work together, to build this more sustainable energy, electricity infrastructure that we need to move into the future.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Since you brought in Linux Foundation, and if you look at Linux Foundation, Linux Foundation is a foundation of foundations, and Microsoft is already part of a lot of Linux Foundation foundations. And you folks recently joined the LF Energy Foundation. Tell us a bit about why is Microsoft, a tech company, joining the LF Energy Foundation?

Audrey Lee: Yeah, sure. Microsoft, as you said, is already a member of 23 Linux Foundation efforts. And Microsoft is building that open technology with our customers, our partners, and the computing community. And we just, we believe we can do more. We’re trying to make Azure the most open cloud, and using Microsoft’s enterprise expertise to empower our partners in our community. And when it comes to Linux Foundation Energy specifically, Microsoft is very focused on creating a sustainable future, built on our software and cloud engineering. And so, not only is Microsoft working to decarbonize its own operations, but we’re also working to help decarbonize the entire electricity grid, that’s where we can help make a big impact. And so, we’re just, we’re joining LF Energy to collaborate. It’s a great forum, the LF Energy members among energy companies and utilities, and we want to collaborate and explore how digitalization and open source technology can help us decarbonize our power systems.

Swapnil Bhartiya: As you related to the fact that Microsoft is already part of 23 Linux Foundation foundations, and even with LF Energy, they are leveraging a lot of projects, which are not only hosted at LF Energy, also outside of LF Energy, energy sector, using as competing a lot, a lot of work is going on. So, if I ask from your perspective, how do you see cross-pollination within Linux Foundation foundation, where all projects are leveraging each other’s works. So what do you see there?

Audrey Lee: I think there’s just so many efforts. This is my first time working at such a large technology company, but I think we have, my colleagues who have joined and started the Green Software Foundation, which I think is really exciting. We, Microsoft, has a lot of work on IOT, and I think we recently published some digital Twin Ontology open source tools. And so, I think it’s also interconnected and it will be a challenge to connect all the dots, but I think it’s really exciting that we’re all working together, and there’s just so many intersection points between green software, and digital twin, and the work with energy companies at Linux Foundation Energy.

Swapnil Bhartiya: If I ask you once again, Microsoft’s or your perspective, by joining LF Energy, how are you going to help them or the ecosystem or the whole open source landscape, through your participation? As you mentioned, you are trying to solve your own problem and your problems, it solves problem for a lot of other people. So talk about that.

Audrey Lee: Yeah, that’s a great question, because I think, we recognize that we are, we can be one part of the solution, we are one part of the grid, not the entire grid. But, we hope that our contribution can really scale some of these solutions. So, just to talk about our sustainability goals and put that in context of how we can try to work together to decarbonize the entire grid, at Microsoft, we just recognize how important it is for us to take urgent climate action. And we hope that our example inspires others. We’re committed to sourcing a 100% of our energy from renewables by 2025. Microsoft has been carbon neutral since 2012, and we’re on a path to become carbon negative by 2030, across our scope one, two and three emissions.

And then, what I think is really cool is, by 2050, we aim to remove all of the carbon we’ve admitted since our company’s founding in 1975. And as one example, two months ago, we just announced our 100/100/0 commitment, which I think is very related to the electricity work that Linux Foundation Energy is doing. And what this commitment means, that by 2030, we’ll have a 100% of our electricity consumption and a 100% of the time, matched by zero carbon energy purchases. So, that means every hour of every day, our energy use and the energy consumed to serve our customers, will be from zero carbon emitting purchases.

And back to your question, we can’t control the outcome by ourselves. And this is where organizations like LF Energy are really important. We’re customers on the grid, we can’t control how our electricity is generated, but we can work with other customers and energy companies to influence the way we purchase our electricity. And then, we can work to decarbonize the entire grid. It’s really, it’s not, in the larger scheme of things, it’s not about, it is about Microsoft decarbonizing its operations, but we could be 1% or 2% of that grid. And so we really need to work together to decarbonize the entire grid and create that sustainable future.

Swapnil Bhartiya: If we look at a lot of industries, TELCO is a very good example, which is moving away from black boxes, proprietary technologies to a lot of open source techniques, though open source is not ultimate, there will always be a mix of both of them. What kind of trends are you seeing in the energy sector? Because we have LF Energy, which is all about open source. So, can you talk a bit about what you see in this space?

Audrey Lee: I think energy can be different than other industries because it’s such a heavily regulated industry. TELCO used to be more regulated, but with energy, with electricity, you have regulated monopolies that have certain constraints, in terms of how you invest in technology, and how you structure that technology investment, and how rate payers fund that and how and how it’s rate based. And so, I think there’s a lot we need to work together on, to figure out, as technology is rapidly changing, how does the regulatory structure evolve to adapt, that we are not hindered by that regulatory structure, and we can decarbonize and adopt this technology, and move forward as quickly as possible.

And so, it’s not, you’re right, it’s not just about technology work, but these forums like LF Energy are really helpful in thinking through some of the regulatory aspects as well and what needs to change. And we can only do that by talking to each other and working together, understanding the technology and understanding a lot of the constraints that utilities operate under.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Audrey, thank you so much for taking time out today and talk about not only Microsoft’s own goals, to reduce its carbon footprint, but also your involvement with the Linux Foundation and Linux Foundation Energy. And I would love to have you back on the show, whenever there is a new update regarding LF Energy. Thank you.

Audrey Lee: Thank you Swapnil, it’s been a pleasure.

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