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Q&A: Utilities need to address climate change with open source (Includes interview)

From heat waves in the Middle East to hurricanes in the Atlantic to droughts in East Africa, the past decade has seen a slew of catastrophic natural disasters caused by climate change. The necessary response requires a major change and quick action by all parties, including utility companies.

Dr. Shuli Goodman, the Executive Director of LF Energy, a non-profit organization bringing the energy industry together to jointly develop technology solutions to climate change, discusses with Digital Journal the challenges the energy industry faces to supply the clean energy we need to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and how using open source technologies allows energy companies to share ideas and reduce costs to develop the green technology needed more quickly.

Digital Journal: How are the Australian bushfires serving as a major wake-up call to governments, citizens and businesses worldwide?

Dr. Shuli Goodman: The climate crisis will look different everywhere and affect some areas more profoundly. It is challenging to have a perspective about the scale and scope of the problem that the climate crisis poses. Some people think that the consequences of climate change are decades away, but for others, such as those in Australia, the climate crisis has already begun.

We all need to pay attention to these bushfires and to take them as a clear warning sign for how the next decades could unfold. We are going to see mass-migrations and major catastrophic events all over the world, similar to the Australian bushfires. As JP Morgan recently said in a private client letter, without cooperative action we are increasingly heading for civilization collapse. Governments and businesses need to work alongside utility companies to provide the support and incentives necessary if we want to stand a chance to achieve our 100% global decarbonization goals.

DJ: How important is it to meet the 2050 climate goals?

Goodman: It is extremely important to meet the 2050 climate goals, because the biggest challenge climate change poses is the threat of extinction. We’ve reached the limits of being able to ignore the threats to our society, and if we fail to act, the number of habitable places will drastically reduce. This will lead to unstable governments and economies, as well as starvation due to droughts. It will put hundreds of millions of people on the path of a mass migration, which will lead to utter chaos. That’s what we have to consider when pushing to meet climate goals within the next 30 years.

DJ: What challenges does the world face as the energy industry strives to supply the clean energy we need to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050?

Goodman:The speed of innovation needed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 is a major challenge. There’s a myth called the Gordian Knot that helps explain the situation we are facing. In the legend, Alexander the Great faced a knot that, if you pulled on one end, it would only get tighter and tighter.

The challenge was to ultimately unravel the knot, which Alexander the Great achieved by using his sword to slice it in half. Traditionally, the energy sector was stable, persistent and slow-moving. That was actually a value and a designed benefit of the system, giving companies plenty of time for new tech adoption and investments. Now, if you pull on anything, every problem only gets tighter and tighter due to the complexity and connectedness of our power grids and economies. We must figure out how we can cut this knot and accelerate innovation to provide digital access to the electrical infrastructure.

DJ: How can using open source technologies allow energy companies to share ideas to develop the green technology we need more quickly?

Goodman:Instead of trying to solve problems on their own, energy and tech companies can utilize open source to collaborate and share tools. By sharing resources, open source lightens the burden posed by the need for increased innovation.

At LF Energy, we are curating an entire stack that addresses functional requirements and capabilities at the transmission, distribution, generation and demand levels. We provide neutral governance, coupled with infrastructure and events and a training and capacity building platform, to ensure that utilities develop the skills to engage in collaborative innovation.

DJ: Can this approach also help to reduce costs?

Goodman:Open source reduces the financial costs of innovation and technological development. By some measures, 50% of the problem will be hardware – PV, batteries, wind turbines, hydro, and the other 50% will be digital. Advances in digitalization, like cloud and 5G point to the reality that monolithic systems are in the past. The future of digitalization are light-weight, microservices using an open technology stack that when composed together address the functional requirements of the new energy future.

If you look at other industries – telecommunication in particular- you can see how open source shifted the economics of the industry towards cheaper, yet increased the value to end-users, and sped innovation cycles from years and months to weeks, hours, and minutes. That is the power of open source and open innovation.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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