Why Open Source for the Smart Grid Needs a Kick-Start

Berkeley Labs has been working on an open source version of a system for demand response services for the power grid (called openADR) for more than five years. But only one company in that time has commercialized a version of the open source platform — a sign that utilities are very far from embracing open source for the smart grid like many companies in the computing and web words have done.

To solve that problem Berkeley Labs has been working with integration firm Utility Integration Solutions (UISOL) to “kick start” adoption and show utilities a clear way to implement these types of open source solutions, explains Travis Rouillard, UISOL Senior Vice President and project leader. Starting in December UISOL will be testing out an example client and server that will run openADR and by early next year will be offering an openADR package for interested utilities.

Will that finally get utilities looking more closely at open source tools? Well, as Rouillard explains, open source and the power grid is still “in its infancy.” While there are a variety of open source projects out there — including openPDC, which we wrote about this morning, openAMI and openHAN — very few utilities are adopting these tools.

One reason is the misconception that open source is unsecure. That’s far from the truth explains Rouillard, who pointed out that all the hours spent by developers on Linux has helped close the security holes for the open source operating system.

Another issue, which I pointed out this morning, is that utility workers haven’t commonly been that IT-savvy. It will take a significant learning curve for utility IT managers to roll out services, for example, based on the open source data processing platform Hadoop. For utilities there’s been a strong emphasis on finding solutions that are end-to-end, which are quick to market, and often times proprietary.

Ultimately the utility market won’t embrace open source tools like openADR until there’s more vendors out there commercializing the platform. It needs a critical mass, explains Rouillard.

But the benefits of open source for the smart grid could be significant. Of course not everything needs to be based on open source, but in areas like the home, where the power grid meets consumer electronics and broadband networks, having a open source platform could lead to much more innovation, interoperability between devices and networks, and low cost development, than a closed system.