Interview with Chris Law, Future Grid
Future Grid decarbonizes the grid by helping utilities deliver safe and reliable electricity by analyzing real-time smart meter data, which enables utilities to integrate renewable energy at scale using their existing network assets. Their customers are using the Future Grid software to gain full visibility of their distribution network, enabling them to manage and overcome these challenges.
Could you tell us about the history and aims of Future Grid?
Future Grid is on a mission to help decarbonize electricity grids. We do this by supporting Utilities transitioning faster to renewable energy by helping them to mitigate the negative impacts solar, batteries and electric vehicles have on the grid as they scale.
The founding team of Future Grid, Chris Law, David Ryan, and Quenton Pongracz, have a background of working with smart meter companies and projects around the world. We realized that the Utilities would need a different solution to harness the power of smart meters for grid management. As technology evolved, the energy transition accelerated, and it became evident that the software we had built was ideal for solving the real-world challenges of renewable integration for electricity Utilities. We do this by providing visibility of critical yet ‘invisible’ electricity assets using data from smart meters and other IoT devices. We convert this data into unprecedented visibility and unique analytical outcomes that allow the grid to be managed within its limits as renewable adoption increases.
In addition to our recent entrance into the U.S. market, we would like to further internationalize to South East Asia, where we recently started engaging with utilities in Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore to support the global transition to renewable energy.
How can Future Grid aid grid modernization?
Future Grid’s SaaS solution is the Engine for the grid modernization process. Using real data from smart meters, it creates visibility into the health of critical, “invisible” assets (e.g. wires, transformers, and fuses) so that Utilities can proactively plan and respond to increasing shifts in power quality due to renewables.
Grid modernization is often viewed as load planning. However, there are many engineering issues that arise from renewable adoption at scale, such as voltage management, thermal and capacity management, or even load balancing of phases. All of these issues must be planned; however, because they are new issues, the old planning methods will no longer work. What Future Grid does is taking data the Utility already has and “marrying” this data together to create the right visibility.
By understanding the health of these “invisible assets,” Utilities can, for the first time, accurately plan their network investments by pinpointing where and when Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) are needed most within the network.
How does your software work? Are there any similar projects out there? What are the potential energy savings/efficiency improvements?
Our software works by managing data from many different sources, including smart meters. Historically Utilities have been trying to build their own solution with new tools in the cloud, which has often failed. As the data volumes increase, “Data engineering” often becomes a barrier for success. Alternatively, some customers have tried existing or incumbent vendors who come from the SCADA/DMS application space but stated the data management (and costs) becoming prohibitive.
To solve the technical and cost challenges, our software (the Future Grid Platform) comes out of the box with everything a Utility needs to address this new problem. It includes four primary components to help make this easy for Utilities:
⦁ Integration and Deployment – the ability to securely ingest and manage data from Utility systems, including DERMs, AMI, GIS, MDM, SCADA, and ADMS from all major vendors, providing support for an extensive list of cloud and database technologies.
⦁ Data Engineering – our core Utility data processing and time-series streaming technology is able to combine high speed, granular grid edge data with utility data to create a digital model of the distribution network and all its assets. Data Engineering also enables the creation and automation of grid algorithms for real-time grid management.
⦁ Distribution Dashboards – unique, ultra-fast visualizations tools built to enable immediate access and discovery to all distribution network data. Traverse months or even years’ worth of data with direct integration back to ADMS and GIS systems for distribution control and command centre visibility. Integrates to corporate single-sign-on solutions for enterprise access and management.
⦁ Distribution Outcomes – a range of advanced analytical modules are included within the software licenses free of charge. Distribution outcomes deliver more than analytics to customers as they enable the outcomes of analytics to connect back to OT (Operational Technology) systems for action, such as voltage control, constraint management, or even load balancing recommendations on transformers.
What is the process for the Utility if they want to purchase your services? Who do you target as customers?
It’s easy to start a pilot in just six weeks. Get in touch and choose a Standard Pilot Program. It typically operates for approx. 6 months to get the most value, and fees range from USD$30-80k. Typical outlines we would deliver include:
⦁ Active Distribution Planning Model
⦁ Phase Identification and Meter/Transformer Identification
⦁ Virtual Transformers and Transformer Load Planning
⦁ Loss of Neutral Detection
The Pilot Programs are interesting for Utilities with Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) who want to deliver safe and reliable electricity by analyzing real-time smart meter data. The SaaS platform ‘Future Grid’ enables utilities to integrate renewable energy at scale using their existing network assets.
What is your health measure network? How does it prevent injuries?
Utilities can use smart meter data to prevent electric shocks at home. In the industry, we call this Loss of Neutral (or broken neutral) Detection. We understand you can’t see an electric shock – but you can definitely feel them! The cause: bad or degraded neutral connections or electrical faults. Warning signs to look out for include electric shock from water pipes, taps, or meter surfaces unexplained flickering, dimming of your lights; In the past, Utilities have built in-house analytics to help detect this problem. However, these solutions are often inaccurate and cannot be easily integrated back to operational systems. They use basic Impedance based calculations that don’t understand the electrical network, and it’s behavior, particularly as DER/Renewables increase which creates “false positives” resulting in mistrust of the data by operations.
So what we have done is build a Product to solve this so that we can help prevent shocks and fatal injury. We convert real-time power quality data from smart meters into a unique “Network Health Measure” that is aware of a wide range of behaviors to weed out all the “false positives”. This allows our customers to predict faults before customers are even aware but, more importantly, ensures high accuracy of results. Many customers in Australia have been Using Future Grid for this use case, which has saved customers’ lives.
What advantages does your recent partnership with Enzen bring to you?
After recognizing that Electricity Networks need to be more accurate and granular in their investment planning than ever before, Enzen and Future Grid will collaborate to become leaders in grid investment planning. We are extremely excited to partner with Enzen, not only because of their in-depth knowledge of distribution operations, but also their commitment to world-leading grid investment models using data. Together we can deliver a product that solves complex planning issues more quickly and more accurately than ever before so that Australia can integrate more rooftop solar.
How important have the globally recognized award wins been for Future Grid? How much visibility have these nominations brought you?
Throughout our journey, the global awards have been extremely important to increase awareness about our company and product and have, for sure, opened up some doors at leading utilities to start pilot projects and to implement long term solutions. Also, winning awards facilitates scaling up and drives internationalization.
The Free Electrons program is one such program that will see Future Grid deployed in Utilities across Asia and Europe.
Could you tell us about the expansion to the US market? How was the funding from the Australian government obtained, and how important is their support for you?
The US is a natural market for Future Grid. Although they are at a different stage of renewable integration when compared to Australia, our job, as I see it, is to package this knowledge and support US utilities to de-risk their Grid Modernization proposals.
In order to obtain the funding, we applied for an Australian Federal Government Commercialisation Grant aiming to speed up the development of high-quality projects with strong local and export market potential.
In addition, we have had the support of the Australian government and the Global Victoria, who took us on several trade missions to the 2018 London Tech Week, 2018 CommunicAsia and the 2018 Big Data World mission to Singapore, were both crucial to our success as this has led to multiple customer engagements in Southeast Asia specifically.
What differences do you see in the renewable integration and grid modernization between Australia and the US at the moment?
Right now Australia is leading the way with technologies such as Rooftop solar. The graph below gives a comparative view between electricity networks in Australia and states within the US, with the exception of Hawaii the adoption rates are not as advanced.
This presents a significant advantage for Future Grid as we are one of the few companies in this sector who actually have real-world experience with renewables at scale – this experience can translate to lower-cost investment plans when US Utilities take advantage of our knowledge and expertise.
There are over 100 million smart meters deployed in the US, yet few realize the true value – that is how this can be converted to visibility for faster outage recovery or greater safety and reliability. The US secondary distribution network is also the wild-west, typically un-mapped, making it harder for accurate Distribution Planning and outage restoration. Our software solves this problem and then turns this new visibility into real-time outcomes proven in Australia, where we have a high degree of renewables already.