LF Energy and Sony CSL Partner on Green Energy Microgrid Initiative

Article By : Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio

LF Energy and Sony Computer Science Laboratories have announced Hyphae, a microgrid initiative to automate peer-to-peer distribution of renewable energy.

LF Energy and Sony Computer Science Laboratories (CSL) have announced Hyphae, a microgrid initiative to automate peer-to-peer distribution of renewable energy. The goal of Hyphae is to make microgrids more efficient and the overall grid more carbon-neutral. Microgrids are segments of larger grids that can disconnect from the larger grid to operate independently. One of the biggest benefit of microgrids is seen to be the resilience they can afford in response to grid disturbances or failures. They also provide a mechanism for attaching renewable energy systems to the grid at large. In an interview with EE Times, Shuli Goodman, executive director at LF Energy, and Kotaro Jinushi, business development manager at Sony CSL (a subsidiary of Sony Corp.), highlighted how their collaboration directs the industrial market toward the goal of building an interoperable AC- and DC-ready microgrid that is autonomous, off-grid operational, and able to connect to an electrical distribution grid with utility oversight. Distributed energy resources — small-scale generation facilities such as rooftop solar arrays that generate energy for use on or near the generation site — are an essential part of the future of renewable energy. Jinushi pointed out that one of the goals of distributed energy resources, especially with scattered renewable energy such as photovoltaics is to accelerate the decarbonization of the energy sector to mitigate the climate crisis. “We believe that a microgrid will be effective to realize this goal, especially in the area where the distribution network is weak enough to install the variable renewable energy resources,” said Jinushi.
Kotaro Jinushi
Goodman commented that the transition from centralized fossil-fuel generation to renewable and distributed energy resources is the most significant reimagining of power systems in over 140 years. “Approximately 75% of our planetary carbon emissions can be mitigated through the electrification of energy and transportation,” she said. “There is no Plan B for grid transformation; the time is now. By adopting an open-source strategy that maximizes flexibility, agility, and interoperability, we can learn to innovate at the speed of technology.” Over the past 20 years, renewables have rapidly strengthened, particularly in power generation, gaining increasing market share from traditional sources such as coal, oil, and nuclear. The crisis from Covid-19 had a significant impact on this segment of the energy sector, as the pandemic disrupted supply chains and labor availability. “I believe we learned that it is challenging to reduce carbon emissions to achieve such goals,” said Jinushi. “In 2020, due to the lockdown of the cities and restricted economic activities, carbon emissions were estimated to decrease by 8%, compared with the previous year. To realize the +1.5-degree scenario in 2030, it is widely said that we need to decrease carbon emissions with the same degree as in 2020.”
Shuli Goodman
Microgrid To slow and stop climate change, we must reduce our harmful emissions to zero. To do this, we need to revolutionize our energy system, generating only sustainable and renewable energy. We also need electricity grids that are sustainable and more reliable; i.e., capable of combining different renewables in the best possible way and more resiliently. Access to energy, particularly in rural areas, can support economic development, local business and job creation, health services, education, women’s empowerment, environmental protection, climate change mitigation, food conservation, and clean water access. Three different strategies contribute to this goal — grid extension, microgrids, and solar home systems — each with a specific field of applicability. Microgrids are electricity systems that make full use of digital metering (smart meter) and smart technologies (smart grid, smart community, and smart city). The basic elements to be considered are:
  • The electrical generation (renewable and distributed energy, as well as traditional)
  • The electrical loads (residential, commercial, industrial)
  • Storage systems (although not always present) and an electrical network (mainly low voltage) to connect the various elements between them and with the medium-voltage macrogrid
“Microgrids are key to control the scattered renewable energies,” said Jinushi. “Currently, most conventional alternating-current microgrids rely on cogeneration that uses oil or gas as a stabilizing energy source, which means CO2 emissions will never reach zero. Also, without sufficient battery capacity, there are limits to how much renewable energy you can bring in, which, in turn, is due to the limits of how flexibly AC generators can respond to the sudden fluctuations of solar energy and other renewables (i.e., the reverse power flow problem). These are just some of the practical problems at play. Open energy system technology overcomes these problems with direct-current microgrids. Decentralized power generators using solar and other renewables and decentralized power storage equipment are directly connected.”
Solar and Wind Energy for Smart Grid (Source: LF Energy)
Centralized control is very different from a more distributed network control. “Imagine the difference between a binary switch, on-off, to managing something like the internet, where we have to keep shifting loads and resources to meet demand patterns,” said Goodman. Microgrids operate connected and in sync with the electrical grid but can be disconnected and operate autonomously, depending on physical and economic conditions. All of this could be incentivized and made more controllable, thanks to new technologies based on artificial intelligence, so as to make the integration between the most sustainable microgrids and the normal electric grid even more controllable and efficient. “We live in a fantastically interesting time when we must imagine running power systems that are beyond our intellect, and maybe imagination, to run,” said Goodman. “Luckily, we are now able to leverage ML [machine learning] and AI to train computers to optimize algorithms that provide the balance we need to choreograph supply and demand. The trick to getting there is to first build the software and hardware that can manage tsunamis of data that mimic, say, the brilliance of a forest, as network operators provide balance to a power system that delivers electricity to our homes, businesses, cities, and campuses.” She added, “Open source is one of the big points to consider accelerating changes in the microgrid technology paradigm to deliver a 100% green energy transition.” Open source for renewable energy The partnership between Sony CSL and LF Energy aims to build an open-source platform with the goal of creating microgrids that are resilient and flexible. Sony CSL’s Hyphae software, Autonomous Power Interchange System (APIS), automatically and efficiently distributes locally produced renewable energy over a DC grid to work with AC grids to spur energy transformation in developed countries and bring electrification to the poorest corners of the globe. “One goal for AC microgrids is to be able to provide flexibility services to the main power system by delivering power back to the system,” said Goodman. “Another is to provide the ability to continue to deliver services if the main power system is under stress. There are probably a few other use cases. All will need to have an economic proof to make the design stand up.” Jinushi commented that another goal is to provide the standardized toolsets and interface to build microgrids and accelerate the energy transition to renewable energy. “The challenges we need to solve would be deregulations and support from the local communities,” he said. An interoperable, cloud-native, configurable microgrid pathway could offer a new way to manage grid energy, contributing to energy conservation and environmental issues. When developing energy systems, interoperability, control, optimization, virtualization of network functions, and digital management of distributed energy resources can all represent development challenges. While microgrids are of interest in the data center industry, which is increasingly using renewable energy projects to mitigate the sustainability impact of the solutions, they could also have a big impact in providing reliable energy in developing countries and improving the resilience of energy supply in all types of situations and markets. “All energy is local; we have the know-how to transport it over infrastructure,” said Goodman. “But if we rethink the ideal design, I believe we would optimize for proximity and connection. That plays to the strengths of a microgrid. Ultimately, we want to decrease complexity by abstraction (virtualization and automation), decrease costs, and increase reliability. It will probably take us the next decade to keep iteratively optimizing for each of these things — complexity, cost, and reliability. Open source has a huge role to play — just like the internet — in making sure interoperability, safety, and scale can be accelerated.” While microgrids are of interest in the data center industry, which is increasingly using renewable energy projects to mitigate the sustainability impact of the solutions, they could also have a big impact in providing reliable energy in developing countries and improving the resilience of energy supply in all types of situations and markets. “All energy is local; we have the know-how to transport it over infrastructure,” said Goodman. “But if we rethink the ideal design, I believe we would optimize for proximity and connection. That plays to the strengths of a microgrid. Ultimately, we want to decrease complexity by abstraction (virtualization and automation), decrease costs, and increase reliability. It will probably take us the next decade to keep iteratively optimizing for each of these things — complexity, cost, and reliability. Open source has a huge role to play — just like the internet — in making sure interoperability, safety, and scale can be accelerated.”
“Microgrids support a flexible and efficient electric grid by enabling the integration of growing deployments of distributed energy resources such as renewables like solar. In addition, the use of local sources of energy to serve local loads helps reduce energy losses in transmission and distribution, further increasing efficiency of the electric delivery system,” according to the US Department of Energy. (Source DoE. Click on the image for a larger view.)
This article was originally published on EE Times. Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio holds a Ph.D. in Physics and is a telecommunication engineer and journalist. He has worked on various international projects in the field of gravitational wave research. He collaborates with research institutions to design data acquisition and control systems for space applications. He is the author of several books published by Springer, as well as numerous scientific and technical publications on electronics design.

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