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What Is Grid eXchange Fabric & Why Alliander Donated It To LF Energy

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Guests: Robert Tusveld (LinkedIn)
Maarten Mulder (LinkedIn)
Organization/Company: LF Energy (LinkedIn, Twitter) | Alliander (LinkedIn, Twitter)
Show: State of Energy

The Grid eXchange Fabric (GXF) is a generic communication network for field devices which originated at Alliander to help them with public lighting solutions. The project helped Alliander communicate with different devices from different vendors that won’t talk to each other since they all used different protocols.

“The first use case we implemented was the public lighting solution. We had several devices from different vendors that would use different protocols but the platform hides all the complexity by translating those device-specific commands into specific protocol requests to the device and the device will turn on irrespective of which vendor it is from,” said Robert Tusveld, Solution Architect, Alliander.

Primarily, GXF creates a functional interface to do even simple things like turning those lights on or off or manage them with automating systems such as light sensors so they can turn on and off themselves.

The project has today evolved and scaled to handle complicated workloads including microgrids, smart metering, public lighting, and distribution automation.

The project can be used in many different scenarios. Alliander is already using it with smart meters and so on.

Looking at the industry-wide problem the project was solving, Alliander decided to contribute the project to a neutral body under the Linux Foundation umbrella and LF Energy became the new home to the project, making it accessible to various industries.

In this segment of State of Energy, we sat down with Robert Tusveld, Solution Architect, Alliander and Maarten Mulder, Product Owner, Alliander to learn more about the project.

Topics we covered in this show include:

  • What is Grid eXchange Fabric or GXF and what problem is it solving?
  • Does GXF work with both modern and legacy/traditional devices & systems?
  • History and origin of the project?
  • Who is the target audience of the project?
  • How different is it from other projects like FledgePOWER?
  • Why and when Alliander decided to contribute it to LF Energy?
  • How is GXF helping with a larger mission of modern companies to cut down on their carbon footprint?
  • How mature is the project?
  • How can one get involved with it?

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Swapnil Bhartiya: This is your host, Swapnil Bhartiya. Welcome to a special issue of TFiR: Let’s talk for LF Energy. And today we have two guests from Alliander, Robert Tusveld, Solution Architect, and Maarten Mulder, Product Owner at Alliander. Robert, Maarten is great to have you both on the show today.

Maarten Mulder: Thank you. We’re very glad we can be on the show.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Today, we are going to talk about the Grid eXchange Fabric or GXF. So, first of all, I would like to know from you Maarten, what is it? What problem does it solve?

Maarten Mulder: The Grid eXchange Fabric is a generic communication network for field devices. We use the platform to communicate with field devices for different use cases. And there is a difference between the IT world and the stable industrial device world. And for example, we use the platform for different use cases like public lighting, so that we can communicate with devices which switch on and off public lighting. Also, we use the GXF platform to communicate with smart meters and with the smart meter head-end. We read out many smart meters, and also we do low folded measurements with the platform.

Swapnil Bhartiya: When you have mentioned these use cases, if I’m not wrong, there are a lot of legacy devices that are already there in the system? And then you are also building a lot of new latest devices. So does it work with both legacy systems and modern devices?

Maarten Mulder: Indeed, it works with legacy systems. Yeah, you can go on with developing applications on top of the platform so that we can still communicate with the same old devices. And also during the time there are new devices in the field with new software and we can put them on top of the platform.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Robert, I want to know from you, can you talk a bit about the origin or the genesis of this project that you saw the specific problem in this space and this project was created to solve the problem?

Robert Tusveld: We started several years ago and we wanted to build a generic platform, which we could use for several use cases further on in the future. The first use case we implemented was the public lighting solution. And during that project, we have several devices from different vendors would use different protocols as well, but these devices are… we can communicate with those devices in a similar way. So from the application point of view, we use a more functional interface like switch on the lights, and the platform will hide all the complexity by translating that command into specific protocol request to the device. And in the end, the device will switch on. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a device of fender A or fender B.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you talk about who is the target audience who is using product which are based on this technology?

Robert Tusveld: GXF platform has been especially made for utilities, so it could be TSOs and DSOs, but it’s so generic that you could use it for all other kinds of use cases as well. So you could be able to communicate with smart devices in the fields, and that’s not limited to utility related devices. So it could be even be a broader audience than only the utilities.

Swapnil Bhartiya: There are some other projects which may kind of either overlap or not overlap and may do the same thing like flash powers and other project, which does talk about protocols. So can you talk about how unique or different is this project from those project? What makes it a bit different or special?

Robert Tusveld: We translate functional requests into a technical request, which will go to the devices and the platform hides a lot of complexity for the applications and also for the users of those applications. But it is more than just a protocol translator. GXF also offers functionality for lifecycle management, for configuration management and even key management. So it’s not just a protocol translator, it offers much more functionality. And is in fact the link between the IT world and the devices in the fields. It also offers the possibility to support mobile communication. So it’s able to handle wait times, it contains throttling mechanisms to handle the load of many connections to devices in the fields.

Swapnil Bhartiya: As you were earlier, explaining the history or origin of the project, it was created at Alliander. Why and when you decide to put it in a neutral foundation like LF Energy, what were the reason for the decision and how does it benefit you, Alliander and the project?

Maarten Mulder: We think at LF Energy different, good in the initiatives brought together. We have to work together to work on our future. Because of the energy transition and its urgency, we cannot do it alone. We can do it with the companies in the Netherlands, but we can do it all also with the companies through all the world. And we think that when we have GXF as a platform and we have the functionality, for example, to read out smart meters and the smart meter head-ends, then we also can contact the device suppliers and ask them to work together to make new functionalities also for the energy transition. In the end, we need to have a better world, and that’s why we want to be a part of LF Energy.

Swapnil Bhartiya: You’re looking at the bigger picture. These days, we talk a lot about decarbonization, the cutting about energy footprint. Does this project contribute in any way? Even, if it is one person that is more than enough. So can you talk about how does it help those utility providers to help with thT goal?

Maarten Mulder: One of the use cases at Alliander is that we do low folded measurements and there we measure substations and we measure congestion. Therefore, we build the MQTT protocol adapter on GXF, and that helps us to stabilize and to get information out of the field so that we can see what solar panels, et cetera does on the energy network. So we cannot do… we cannot manage the network, but we can see what happens. And that’s, I think the first step.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. Now I want to talk a bit about the community at LF Energy. Can you talk about what kind of community is around this project? Also, sometimes a lot of LF Energy project, they leverage each other as well. So to talk about the community around this project, and if there are other projects that you also benefit from.

Robert Tusveld: Until now, the community is still very small. We’re the main contributor to the GXF project. And we had several developers becoming active in the community, but we think the platform is very good and could be very helpful for other parties as well. And that’s why we try to invest in the community and hope that other companies are going to contribute to the GXF platform as well, so we can leverage from knowledge of other parties, but also their investments. And we have already invested a lot into the platform and that could help other companies as well to well, gain a lot of advantage when starting with GXF.

Swapnil Bhartiya: So if I give you an opportunity for a call of action, hey, so… and ask you, “Hey, what kind of companies you would like to invite that, hey, come and not only participate, but also benefit from this project”, what would that be?

Robert Tusveld: I think all DSOs, at least in the Netherland, but also in other companies… in other countries, they have the same problems to fix. They run into the same situations like the congestion management that needs to be solved. There are a lot of devices in the field that we need to communicate with them. They are all a lot of different kinds of industrial protocols that they’re using. And every country and every DSO and TSO has this problem. And a generic platform that could solve a lot of these problems and help the companies to get a better, more efficient solution and support for a generic platform, which can be used for all kinds of use cases. So I think all those companies could contribute to that and could leverage from all the experience that we already gained on that field.

Maarten Mulder: And also the suppliers of devices, we can help also with our platform, because they can use it. They can go to LF Energy, take the platform and build on the platform so that they have a direct value to offer. And I think that’s great.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. And if they do want to get involved, can you also share how they can get involved, what are the resources that are available to them?

Robert Tusveld: Yes. We have a lot of information already about the GXF platform. We have a lot of documentation available. Of course, the source code is open source, but not only the sources for GXF, but we also have lot of simulators available for every protocol that we are developing. So another company that will wants to start using GXF as a communication platform is able to have a lot of tooling around that as well. And we have also a lot of technical documentation available as well. We have a guide book developed with all the information about the available protocols that we’re supporting, the different domains that we are currently supporting. And of course, that is extendable. So every company that wants to contribute to the development can add documentation as well, besides the code that they have developed.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you also talk about how mature the project is? Is it still at a very early phase, or is already being used in production somewhere?

Maarten Mulder: At Alliander, it’s in production and we managed many thousand devices on the platform for smart metering. At this moment, we have 300,000 devices on the platform and we will grow to up to six million. And we need to manage those devices. And for the public lighting, we have 20,000 devices. And for low folded measurements, we have to manage 4,000 devices.

Robert Tusveld: Well, I could add to that, that there’s been a lot of development in the past years. And the solution has proven to be very stable and well, as Maarten just told, it’s already in production with thousands of devices. And we did a test with over 10 million simulated devices last year. And it proved that it’s a very stable environment, a very stable platform, which can handle millions of devices at the same time. So I think it’s far beyond a showcase, but is really a production ready platform, which could be used by any other company that would like to start using it.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Robert, Maarten, once again, thanks for taking time out today and talk about this project. And as you said, it’s already used in production, but I’m pretty sure a lot of development were in progress in there. So I would love to have you folks back on the show to get some update on the project, but for today, thank you.

Robert Tusveld: Thank you very much.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Thank you.

Maarten Mulder: Thank you very much. Bye, bye.

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