The Driving Forces Behind Grid Modernization
Electric utility companies face multiple challenges in maintaining a reliable power supply. With extreme weather events, the impact of climate change, and an increasing global demand for electricity, they need to keep the lights on while also focusing on sustainability, energy efficiency, and decarbonization. These obstacles require electric utilities to rethink how they design, manage, and maintain the power grid to ensure its resilience, reliability, and affordability for the future.
In this IoT Chat episode, we hear from industry experts and thought leaders at the forefront of this transformation. They discuss the latest innovations in grid modernization, including use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain technology, and how these solutions help make the grid more resilient and secure.
Our Guests: ABB, Dell, Intel, and VMware
Joining us for this conversation:
- Jani Valtari, Technology Center Manager for industrial digitization leader ABB. At ABB, Jani is in charge of research and development activities surrounding electricity-distribution systems.
- Russell Boyer, Global Energy Field Director at technology company Dell Technologies. At Dell, Russell focuses on developing and deploying solutions and strategies for energy transition, decarbonization, and energy security.
- Prithpal Khajuria, Director of Energy and Sustainability at technology company Intel. At Intel, Prithpal and his team are at the forefront of driving grid modernization worldwide to meet global energy needs.
- Anthony Sivesind, Edge Solution Architect at cloud computing company VMware. At VMware, Anthony works to introduce new solutions to the power industry and support all the way from conceptual phase to deployment.
Jani, Russell, Prithpal, and Anthony answer our questions about:
- (3:17) Power grids’ recent evolutions and changes
- (4:58) State of the power grid today
- (7:26) Ongoing efforts to modernize the power grid
- (8:39) How to scale and measure the success of grid modernization
- (9:55) The biggest opportunities for changes within the grid
- (11:35) Emerging technologies to improve the power grid
- (15:07) Real-world examples of grid modernization across the globe
- (22:36) Importance of industry partnerships and standards
- (29:38) The future of grid modernization
To learn more about efforts to modernize the grid, read Powering the Future: Grid Modernization Efforts in Action and Grid Modernization Powers the Way to a Decarbonized Economy and listen to ABB Talks Smart Grids, Substations, and Security. For the latest innovations from these companies, follow them on LinkedIn: ABB, Dell Technologies, Intel Internet of Things, and VMware.
Christina Cardoza: Hello, and welcome to the IoT Chat, where we explore the latest developments in the Internet of Things. I’m your host, Christina Cardoza, Editorial Director of insight.tech, and today we’re going to be talking about the driving forces behind grid modernization with a panel of expert guests from Intel, VMware, ABB, and Dell. But before we jump into our conversation, let’s get to know our guests. Prithpal from Intel. I’ll start with you. Please tell us more about yourself and your role at Intel.
Prithpal Khajuria: Oh, thank you, Christina. Prithpal Khajuria: I lead the Energy vertical at Intel. And Intel is at the forefront of driving grid modernization worldwide to meet the energy needs of the global customers.
Christina Cardoza: Great. Looking forward to hearing more about what Intel is doing in this space. But, Russell, welcome to the show. Can you tell us more about yourself and Dell?
Russell Boyer: Yeah, my name is Russell Boyer. I work for Dell Technologies. I’m part of the Global Energy team. My role is to really develop and drive the solutions and strategies for helping energy transition, advancing decarbonization, and ensuring energy security. So, thank you for having me.
Christina Cardoza: Yeah, thanks for being here. And, Jani, also thank you for being here. Please tell us more about yourself and ABB.
Jani Valtari: Thank you for the opportunity to join this very nice webinar. My name is Jani Valtari. I come from ABB Distribution Solutions. I’m acting as a Technology Center Manager, which means that I’m in charge of research and development activities we do around electricity-distribution systems. So, our aim at ABB is to make electricity distribution as reliable, as smooth as possible, and really boost up the electrification of our society and reducing the carbon footprint.
Christina Cardoza: And, last but not least, we have Anthony from VMware. Please tell us more about yourself and the company.
Anthony Sivesind: Thanks, Christina. So, yeah, my name is Anthony Sivesind, and I am a Solutions Architect at VMware, leading our Edge Utility vertical. I came here after working as a utility engineer for 16 years. I spent the majority of that time in protection-automation control, working on standards and strategy. And, you know, now working for VMware I have a great opportunity to not only advance my own learning and networking virtualization and modern applications, but can begin to pay forward that experience bringing together OT and IT technologies. So, our goal is to ensure proper implementation of new solutions being introduced to the power industry, and to help support them from the conceptual phase all the way to in service.
Christina Cardoza: Great. Well, can’t wait to hear from all of you about what’s happening in the grid space, and how it is being modernized and evolving throughout the years. I think recently there has just been an increased demand for electricity, ensuring that power is reliable, stable, affordable; but what many users don’t realize is all of the work that has to go on the back end to make this all possible.
So I would love to start off the conversation just looking at the state of the grid and how it has had to evolve and modernize over the last couple of years. So, Prithpal, I’ll start with you on this one. If you could talk about the recent evolutions and changes you’ve seen as it relates to the power grid.
Prithpal Khajuria: Oh, thank you, Christina. If we see the lay of the land, the grid architecture has been almost a hundred-plus years old. It has not changed in a hundred years, but what happened in the last decade, we started shifting towards the renewables, and the most important thing is the penetration of renewables at the edge of the grid. I mean, in other words, homes, businesses, parking lots—where we started deploying large-scale renewable energy, mostly the solar. And what it did was that it started pushing energy back to the grid.
So, grid was designed as a one-way highway of electrons moving from utilities to homes and businesses. But with the addition of renewables at the edge of the grid it started the two-way flow of electrons. Now we are facing the challenge. A system was designed to operate one way, but we have to make, adapt it to the new scenario, where the renewable energy is coming from homes and businesses back to the grid. That led to the biggest challenge in the power grid. And I think that requires us to rethink the architecture of the grid; how we can add more intelligence technology into it to get better visibility and faster decision-making capabilities going forward.
Christina Cardoza: Absolutely. And, Anthony, I’m wondering, from a VMware perspective, the evolutions or changes that you’re seeing, and where we are today with that evolution.
Anthony Sivesind: I’ll add on what Prithpal said there, and I agree that the power flow has changed. What once was a one-way power flow is now a great shift and a lot of additional disaggregated sources on the grid. So, what wasn’t a problem for utilities, now is. And along with the power flow we’re seeing an increase in the penetration of, basically, point loads—increase in density of loads, and that really is due to data centers and electric vehicles that we’re seeing. Those are two examples.
And so balancing those changes, along with an increase in extreme weather events, physical cyberattacks, and doing that all while maintaining their aging grid infrastructure is a challenge for utilities. So what VMware wants to do is help to implement a flexible platform for those utilities to use to improve their capabilities.
Christina Cardoza: I can definitely see how the aging infrastructure, like Prithpal was mentioning, and the new demand with data centers and just the rise of electric vehicles is putting pressure on the grid and sort of driving these changes. But I think there’s so much more that is not forcing, but driving these changes, and creating businesses and utilities to really think about how they are approaching the grid. And so, Russell, I would love to hear what you think some of these additional evolution drivers are.
Russell Boyer: Sure. So, we’ve all experienced that power is critical for our modern civilization. You know, living here in Texas, we’ve lived through a few recent disasters, and what you realize is that all of our technology relies on power. And so what the utility has to do is basically figure out how do we take these various challenges, like weather events and cyberattacks and all of those, and basically add more intelligence and add more operational capabilities to turn that data into insight, and ultimately to improve the reliability and the resiliency of the grid.
Christina Cardoza: So I think it’s clear that changes definitely need to happen, and changes are already underway. So, Jani, I would love to hear from you: what are the current efforts you see out there to modernize the grid, and how else will these efforts need to build on and scale?
Jani Valtari: I think utilities today, they are facing a tricky challenge. At one site we need to increase the amount of renewable energy; we need to decarbonize the energy sector. But then at the same time, bigger parts of the society are going under electrical energy. So we actually are even more stringent on reliability requirements.
So we need to be at the same time very flexible, very adaptable to a renewable generation, but we also need to be more secure than before. And the way to do that is to add more digital technologies. And to do that in an affordable way we need specifically these kinds of common, standardized platforms—what Russell was talking about—to really make this transition in a way that we make scalable solutions that can be widely deployed to many different locations and across the globe, regardless of the country or our industry.
Christina Cardoza: Yeah, absolutely, Jani. And you mentioned these ideas—reaching sustainability goals—that’s something that Russell mentioned as well. And so I’m wondering, as we try to reach these goals, as we try to modernize the grid and keep it—the power grid—reliable and sustainable, like Anthony mentioned, how do we measure success? So, Anthony, if you’d like to take that one.
Anthony Sivesind: Yeah, thanks. So, we’re seeing grid modernization happen, most commonly we see it at the grid center, right? We’ve got advanced management systems often for transmission distribution. They offer significant improvements in the power flows that we talked about at the beginning. And they offer other benefits too: of course reduced average time, business continuity, overall power quality is improved. They’re needed along with those edge platforms that both Jani and Russell talked about to improve your visibility and your intelligence and the data flow. How are we going to measure that?
So, I think energy companies will go back to their roots. How do they measure success today? It’s by quantifying the safety and reliability with metrics, and then they can also look hard at the value they’re providing. So not only is that levelized cost of energy, but that’s the information and services at a higher quality they’re providing to their customers than they ever have before.
Christina Cardoza: And I’m wondering, also from an Intel perspective, Prithpal, how—where you guys see the biggest opportunities for these changes. Where can we start making grid-modernization efforts? But then how do you take those starting efforts and scale and build off of them?
Prithpal Khajuria: Yeah. I think, Christina, one thing to look at is how do we build a data-driven grid? What historically we have been doing building it is a model-driven grid, and from top down. But, now we need to go bottom up, using a data driven, by building intelligent systems at the edge of the grid—in this case is the substation. So, how do we build the intelligent edge and use that intelligent edge to collect more data, normalize the data, extract more intelligence, autofeed, for greater visibility, and faster decision-making?
I think that is how we can address the challenges, such as in order to meet the ESG goals that Anthony and Russ mentioned, is to maximize the utilization of renewable energy. The only way we can maximize the utilization of renewable energy is if we have a greater visibility and insights, and that’s how Intel sees is to build a data-driven grid going forward.
Christina Cardoza: I’d like to take a minute to step back and look at some of these emerging technologies and trends that are happening within the grid that we’ve mentioned—the intelligent edge, renewable energy, AI is a big component in this. So, Russell, I’m interested in hearing from you how these technologies are being used to improve the grid, and the importance of them in this whole grid-modernization initiative.
Russell Boyer: Well, Dell technology has been investing in edge and IoT for several years now, to harden our overall compute infrastructure and to be able to ultimately offer more capabilities out at the edge. In order to support all of this automation and real-time operational decision-making, we really need more capabilities, more compute, out at the edge in the substation, and that’s just to be able to meet the requirements today. If you look at these sustainability targets, we’re going to have to be able to have a landing place where these new AI models of the future can land. And today we’ve got aging infrastructure in the substation, and we really need to modernize that, and modernize it at scale so that we can not only meet those requirements of today, but the requirements of the future.
I think the one thing, example, that was given earlier is that as we start having more and more virtual power plants where there’s a significant amount of generation on the distribution side, we’re going to need to be able to improve those operational technologies to be able to better manage that, and to achieve those ESG targets that Prithpal mentioned to make sure that we favor those sustainable sources of energy.
Christina Cardoza: I love how you talked about the requirements of today, but also meeting the requirements of tomorrow. Because I think a lot of the goals or the efforts in place are going to take years to reach, and some of the sustainability goals are decades out there. So, Jani, I’m wondering from you, how else do you see these emerging technologies being used to meet the needs of today, but also be able to meet the requirements of tomorrow and the future?
Jani Valtari: If we look a few years back, the traditional way of handling protection control in substation has been to use devices that you install once, and then you let them run for maybe 10, 15 years and you don’t need to touch them so much. And now we see changes happening where we actually need to adopt a changing environment on a very frequent scale.
So it means that we are not anymore designing based on models like Prithpal was saying, but we need to make it more data driven, not just that we can collect data and get some insights, but we can actually react fast based on the data even in the millisecond scale, and really keep the reliability of the network as high as possible.
And for emerging technologies, what we have now noticed—one very interesting thing is, for example, virtualization of real-time functionality. Not anymore going to dedicated devices that you engineer for certain purpose, but you really take a software-oriented approach, and even a very critical, time-critical protection counter-functionality. You can run things on the virtual platform and really quickly adapt and change whenever there’s a need to change in the network.
Christina Cardoza: Absolutely. And so we’ve been talking about these grid-modernization efforts at a high level, but I would love to hear from each of you—because obviously you all are significant players in this space to actually making this happen, helping utilities and businesses and organizations meet their goals and really modernize their efforts in the power grid. So, Anthony, I would love to start with you. Do you have any case studies or customer examples you can share of what VMware has been doing in this space?
Anthony Sivesind: I’m going to steal the UK Power Network’s example, which I think we’ve all worked on. They have a very public project they call Constellation, which is they’re in the process of virtualizing all their substation applications. From that, they expect not only to increase and enable the capacity of renewables on their system—which is going to offset the carbon emissions—but they also plan to save their customers money in the process.
So, as they install and commission those systems, they realize they have a flexible platform. So they have an open call for innovation in competition. So, that’s impressive, what they’ve done there so far, and really they’re opening the floodgates on what can be done with the data that they’re going to be able to leverage now, and really they’re just scratching at the surface of what’s possible. So, exciting.
Christina Cardoza: Absolutely. And, Prithpal, what is Intel doing in this space? Or what can we expect from Intel in the future as we continue these grid-modernization efforts?
Prithpal Khajuria: Intel is looking at grid modernization from multiple angles. One angle is first to talk to the end customers, in this case the utilities. What are the challenges they are facing, and how technology can help them. One of the biggest challenges which we saw, which Jani touched a little bit on it, is the penetration of these thousands of fixed-feature function devices, which have been sitting in their substations for many years, and they were designed to do one thing and only one thing. So that was the biggest challenge for the utilities. So Intel put together a team to build the next-generation infrastructure—just like what data centers did, what telcos did—to standardize the hardware, disconnect software from the hardware, because Intel guarantees the backward compatibility with our silicon. In that way we can accelerate the adoption of technology.
So, how this whole thing happens, I think my colleagues will add—Russ and Anthony and Jani will add more into it. Intel provides the core technology, the ingredients, okay? Which is our silicon and associated technologies around it. Then Dell comes with its technologies; its capabilities layer on the top of it. Then VMware comes with its software-defined infrastructure on the top of it, and then ABB comes with the power-centric technologies on the top of it. That is what kind of Intel vision was, that how to bring the whole ecosystem, build this scalable infrastructure, which can accelerate the adoption of technologies in the utility sector to drive the goals which each utility or each country in the world has on maximizing the utilization of renewables and minimizing the fossil fuels.
Christina Cardoza: Great. And Jani, last time you joined us on the IoT Chat was a little bit over a year ago, where you talked about how ABB was approaching this idea of smart grid, and doing things like modernizing substations. So I would love to hear an update of what you guys are doing today, and how you’ve helped customers in this space.
Jani Valtari: Yes, thank you. I believe one year ago we were talking about certain visions, and today we can say that it’s now reality, not anymore vision. In general, we’ve been looking towards, let’s say, software-oriented approach to create management for already two decades. So, trying to really shift things from hardware-centric to software-centric, and going from model-based towards database, and then really going from fixed systems to very volatile and fast-changing, but still super reliable systems.
And the latest addition to this long chain of many innovations—how about one month ago when we released the world’s first virtualized protection and control system. And the ABB key knowhow here is of course the multidecade long experience on protection and control on power system algorithms and power flows and different kind of fault phenomena. But we even, we cannot do this whole thing alone. So it’s been very, very good to have very good, solid collaboration.
For example, in the level of hardware development with Intel and Dell, we need really super-reliable hardware also to run the algorithms. So, and then also we are not experts on the virtualization environments, and that the good, solid collaboration with Anthony and VMware has been also very, very important for us. And in addition to this product release one month ago, Anthony already stole a nice example with a good collaboration with UK Power Networks in the Constellation project. We are where we are now, really bringing this solution to the wide deployment.
Christina Cardoza: I love hearing about all of these collaborations that you guys are working with together. But before we get into that, Russell, you mentioned a little bit of what Dell is doing in this space and I would love to hear you expand a little bit.
Russell Boyer: Sure. So, I like to use the term that we’ve got to create a coalition of the willing in order to innovate. And so Intel’s done a great job of bringing together a coalition of various software, hardware, and clients to really go about putting together a standard. You know, we’ve got to influence the standards. For example, virtualization was mentioned, and virtualization has had tremendous value and benefit on the data center side, and it’s just now coming to the edge. And so we’ve got to influence that particular standard.
The other is we’ve got to have the collaboration. So, we’ve had some close collaboration with ABB, with their SSC600 software running on the Dell XR12 at UKPN, which was mentioned. The key here is Dell has continued to make investments in our platforms, and making sure that it can meet standards like IEC 61850. I think the other key is, as we move forward, we want to make sure that we have a whole portfolio of options to be able to support these modern platforms at the edge.
And one other item I just wanted to say is that this collaboration we have to have, close collaboration with all different types of partners, so we are open, too, if there’s additional folks that want to innovate with us and want to work together on these kinds of strategic objectives, let’s talk, because I think it’s really about the collaboration that’s going to make this particular project successful in the future.
Christina Cardoza: Absolutely. And, you know, I think the old way of thinking is sort of, you have to do everything on your own and build everything from the ground up, but when you have partners like the ones that we have on this webinar today, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And since Jani mentioned how he was working with VMware, Anthony, I would love to hear how else you guys work with others in the industry like ABB and VMware and Dell, and what really is the value of those partnerships and those coalitions, like Russell mentioned?
Anthony Sivesind: Yeah, it’s been invaluable, really, the partnerships we’ve established and the collaboration, not just with the partners like you’d see here, but also utilities. I want to tip my hat to Intel for engaging all the utilities. You know, a lot of them don’t work—at least where it’s still deregulated—as competitors, so they can come together and work together, and Intel has kind of spurred the industry with a pair of coalitions or alliances, in E4S in Europe and AMEA, as well as the vPAC Alliance in here in America. And it’s really a great chance to build those standard specifications that Russell talked about, and collaborate with utilities and the partners like you would see here. So that’s really—it’s been a driving force, I think, in the industry, and will continue to be, and help us accelerate what we’ve been talking about here today.
Christina Cardoza: And I think one of the great things of working and partnering with a technology giant like Intel is that Intel brings their own coalitions or ecosystem of partners to really get this done. And it’s not just working with partners, it’s working with systems integrators, system architects to make sure that every piece of this is covered. So, Prithpal, would you like to talk a little bit more about the ecosystem that goes on at Intel?
Prithpal Khajuria: I think everybody has touched on it, but the Intel strategy right from the beginning has been that first make the customer first. The utility—make them the first, and make them part of this journey from day one, because at the end of the day they have the problems, and they want to buy the solutions for those problems. So we need to get them on the forefront, fully engaged, and then bring the ecosystem together, the best-of-the-breed ecosystem out there with their capabilities in each area.
If we talk about ABB, best of the breed, more than a hundred years of experience in the power industry. Look at VMware, invented the virtualization technology. Dell, the leader hardware-solution provider in software components. So we get all these best-of-the-breed ecosystem together to create best-of-the-breed solutions. And that’s what the objective of Intel has been.
And I think Anthony touched on it on two things. We created two industry alliances focused purely on the power industry. One was the E4S Alliance, which we started in Europe—everybody’s a member of it—which is focused on digitalization of secondary substations because they are also at the edge of the grid. That’s where the customers and utilities engage with each other. And then we came to North America where we saw a bigger challenge in primary substations, and we created a vPAC Alliance, which is focused on virtualization of automation and control in the substations.
Then it goes back to what—and Russell mentioned to build that scalable, standardized infrastructure—and once we do that, then we can land the applications on the top of it. Today’s applications and the applications which we have not thought about yet! But the infrastructure is there now, and then things can be added as we go. So that has been the vision of Intel: to bring everybody together, accelerate the adoption of the technology, and deliver the benefits to the utilities and their customers.
Christina Cardoza: So, one thing I’m curious about in hearing all of this is we’ve talked a lot about new and emerging technologies in this conversation, as well as just new partnerships happening, and I’m curious—to really make these coalitions or collaborations work, it seems that everybody needs to be speaking the same language. And I know that can be difficult at times, when you have a number of different standards or technologies that everybody is working on.
So, Jani, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how the importance of industry standards, the work or the standards out there, and really making sure that everybody is on the same page to making these big efforts successful.
Jani Valtari: I would say, first of all, we need to have a common vision, which we now have. What we want to see happening in terms of grid modernization, we need to have a lot of customers on board, and the customer actually is the first—first partner to say what they want to achieve, but how to bring to the—go to the direction that the solution is scalable and can be widely used in different places.
Then we need to do everything based on global standards. In the power sector, the key standard is IEC 61850. And when we all think and agree that we want to follow that standard, that already helps a lot. It has standardized items related to hardware, it has standardized items related to software, related to communication, related to many different protocols and aspects. So I would say that already this one particular standard with many different subsections; when we put that as our key center point, we are in a good position to create solutions that can be very widely used.
Christina Cardoza: Great. I think one thing is clear from this conversation is that we’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible and what’s still to come. So, Russell, I’m wondering what do you envision for the future of grid modernization, or what is next on this timeline effort?
Russell Boyer: From a grid-modernization perspective, one of the key things—we’ve got to put the customers first and we need to educate them. We need to educate them on the new technology. We need to invest in making sure that we can test the technology and prove out how this works to get the substation engineers, to get all of the technologists comfortable with the new platform.
We set a goal back in March of 2021 of getting 20 pilots in the first year, and we’ve achieved that. And I think that’s important because we’ve got to get, we’ve got to accelerate the deployment of this new technology in order to achieve these energy transitions. And so I think it’s critical that we—any opportunity that we can educate and test and then ultimately pilot this technology will help to meet these particular energy-transition goals.
Christina Cardoza: Great. Well, unfortunately we are running out of time, but since this has just been such a big conversation, we’ve touched upon a bunch of different things and it’s such an important topic. I would love to just throw it back to each of you one more time for any final thoughts or key takeaways you want to leave our listeners with today. So, Jani, I’ll start with you on this one.
Jani Valtari: Well, maybe one key message is that technology is ready for very rapid, fast, grid modernization, and we’ll be really happy to engage with our customers and to really look together on what’s the best way to take them widely into use in the fast manner.
Christina Cardoza: Great. And, Anthony, any final thoughts or key takeaways you want to leave our listeners with today?
Anthony Sivesind: I’ll echo what Russell and Jani are saying here. We’re ready now. So, we have the technology, we are ready to help utilities in any way that we can to train and learn and bring their teams together. So I would say, please take us up on that opportunity. Let’s work through this together.
Christina Cardoza: Absolutely. And, Russell, what would you like listeners to get out of this conversation and leave with today?
Russell Boyer: If we’re going achieve these ESG targets, we really have to accelerate the deployment of new technology. That’s the key message from my perspective. And Dell is committed to developing the latest technology to be able to deploy that today.
Christina Cardoza: Great. And, Prithpal, please lead us out of the conversation.
Prithpal Khajuria: Yeah, I think, Christina, my message is to the utilities: technology is ready. Let’s put a migration plan together—how we can walk you through the journey of a pilot or a proof of concept to a field pilot to a deployment—that migration plan needs to be stitched together, and Intel and its ecosystem partners are here to help them.
Christina Cardoza: Well, I can’t wait to see what else you guys all do in this space. I just want to thank you all for joining the IoT Chat today. And I urge and invite all of our listeners to keep up to date, visit Dell, ABB, VMware, and Intel’s websites to follow along how they’re making strides in this space, as well as the insight.tech website as we cover these grid-modernization efforts today. And in the future. Until next time, this has been the IoT Chat.
The preceding transcript is provided to ensure accessibility and is intended to accurately capture an informal conversation. The transcript may contain improper uses of trademarked terms and as such should not be used for any other purposes. For more information, please see the Intel® trademark information.
This transcript was edited by Erin Noble, copy editor.