At Camus Energy, we believe that industry collaboration through open source software will become a key part of the decarbonized grid. We are happy to announce that we have put that philosophy to work in a partnership with VMware. Together we are building a demonstration grid orchestration project as part of a corporate microgrid at VMware’s headquarters in Palo Alto.
VMware is an established leader in enterprise IT with a strong focus on both sustainability and open source. We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with them on new approaches to energy system management.
Energy systems are transitioning from large centralized systems, with utility-operated power plants, to smaller, distributed ones incorporating solar, wind, and batteries. This transition requires a new generation of software.
Currently the energy sector lacks standard software; each utility pays vendors to customize solutions for their needs. This makes for expensive and brittle systems that are difficult to adapt in changing conditions. The transition to more distributed, renewable, and responsive energy provides an opportunity to adopt the best, modern approach for software: open source.
Camus’ long-term vision is to use open source software to enable local grid management: balancing traditional reliance on the bulk power system with greater use of local generation and flexible loads. One key tool that must be developed is a large-scale load balancer. It will incorporate a range of inputs, including energy prices, carbon intensity, and grid constraints. The load balancer will then orchestrate devices to provide operational support in a variety of grid environments: microgrid, virtual grid, and distribution grid.
Our collaboration with VMware has allowed us to take the first step in this vision.
When we designed this project, we expected to be dealing with the demands of a busy corporate campus – coordinating on-site charging, HVAC usage, and compute load with a full-time staff on the premises. But early on in the project, the Coronavirus pandemic arrived and instead we faced an entirely empty campus. It’s tough to manage charging when nobody is plugged in!
Undaunted, our teams continued to collaborate virtually. In order to generate useful data, two Camus team members drove their EVs to the VMware campus and started charging. This allowed the teams to test their orchestration and control software in a real-world setting. It also enabled our engineering team to better understand the API control surface by exercising it under a variety of real-world conditions.
Field testing under real-world conditions is a key part of Camus’ iterative development model. Unlike the waterfall method of software development from the 1970’s, a modern iterative approach allows for verifying and improving system behavior on an ongoing basis – from simulation (a model of EV charging systems), to single device (one EV charger), to group control (a campus or city of EV chargers). This forms part of our continuous verification process (for every change, not just initial development) and helps ensure the ongoing reliability of our systems.
Another goal of our collaboration is to demonstrate a model for corporate energy consumers who want to deeply decarbonize their power supply. While there are increasing numbers of corporate solar and microgrid projects, our partnership with VMware goes further; it provides tools to manage energy consumption in response to external signals – for example, slowing the rate of EV charging on hot summer afternoons when air conditioning demand is high.
Control of flexible load devices provides an additional set of tools to support 24×7 decarbonization goals. Corporate assets consist of a logical set of resources, which might be widely distributed – they might have campuses with many buildings, or buildings in many locations, distributed data centers, or a power footprint which doesn’t otherwise share a single location or meter. Treating these assets as a “virtual” grid can help the corporate owner align their power usage with local renewable supply, as well as providing more traditional microgrid benefits such as cost management and resilience.
Also, our collaboration with VMware allowed Camus to test and improve EV group charging integration in the field before deploying it in other contexts and with other customers. And, software from our existing commercial deployments helped VMware to make progress on its sustainability impact and R&D goals – despite the pandemic conditions we are all facing. In both cases, the open source approach has enabled us to collaborate on development of the relevant software without the need for negotiating IP relationships at every step.