AI Energy Storage To Make Electric Grids More Responsive: Q&A With Fluence, CTO


Technology leaders in the energy industry have a unique opportunity to look at not only hardware, but also software and data-driven analytics, as tools for solving grid challenges.

— Brett Galura, CTO, Fluence

“Much like the Internet of the 90’s, the AI energy storage solution space is still in its infancy. We’ve only begun to realize the potential,” explains Brett Galura, chief technology officer, Fluence (a Siemens and AES company). Some years ago, Galura established a small team focused on the incubation of energy storage technology in the machine learning and advanced analytics space. He knew that AI energy storage would be key to Fluence’s business going forward and continued to expand the extensive datasets they have collected during his 13 years of energy storage operations.

In this edition of Toolbox’s Tech Talk with Neha Pradhan, Galura discusses if smart grids will be enough to identify and protect cyber supply chain risk. He also talks about digital technologies such as AI, analytics, machine learning and whether the energy storage-as-a-service (ESaaS) model will truly solve the decarbonization, decentralization, and digitization puzzle.

Key Takeaways on AI-Enabled Energy Storage Technology:

  • Encourage a technology-agnostic ecosystem to drive the digital transformation of electric grids.
  • Make energy storage and renewable assets more lucrative with AI-enabled forecasting software.
  • Focus on utilizing AI energy storage to develop critical infrastructure which is resilient against climate crises.

1. According to Deloitte, energy is one of the top three sectors targeted for cyber-attack in the United States. Will the power sector’s industrial IoT, which includes “smart grids”, be enough to identify and protect cyber supply chain risk?

One of the reasons cybersecurity has been a challenge in the power industry is that many of the existing deployed solutions are based on legacy or legacy-derived control systems, which have only recently been exposed to widely interconnected networks.

Enterprise IT systems experienced a similar transition decades before and, while there are certainly still challenges, there is simply a longer history of innovation of cybersecurity solutions and practices in the enterprise compared to those in the power system.

Cybersecurity is still far from being a solved issue, but it is possible to take advantage of advances outside the power industry. Even with the best solutions, though, the power system is a large, growing, attractive, and distributed target, and we should expect the challenges to continue for a long time.

Also read: Tech Talk: Build a Cybersecurity Risk Management Strategy, Infosys CISO Urges Tech Brands

2. When it comes to the digital transformation continuum, what should energy companies consider as priority – implementing one-off digital projects or building an enterprise-wide digital strategy and culture?

We are at a pivotal moment for the energy storage industry in general. However, for the industry to grow, technology innovation must focus not simply on ever-more advanced or cheaper versions of storage but on solving real-life problems and delivering more value to the grid. The technology will become increasingly integral to the electric network, creating something vastly different and much more efficient, reliable, and sustainable than our current systems.

Building an enterprise-wide digital strategy and culture at all levels is critical. Energy storage is a key element for transforming how we generate and deliver power in local and global markets. This requires the entire corporation to adopt an innovative and forward-thinking mindset (from the talent we hire to the protocols we set in place and the products we offer to customers).

— Brett Galura, CTO, Fluence

We are focused on technology’s potential for replacing natural gas peaker plants, other fossil fuel generation, and costly grid infrastructure. Creating a solution that has the potential to transform the way we power our world requires wearing many hats and constant collaboration.

3. In the energy sector, digital technologies such as AI, analytics, machine learning are considered disruptive. How can energy technology leaders achieve operating efficiencies and create additional revenue to optimize digital transformation efforts?

What’s been said about advanced technologies like AI for energy storage and their ability to transform the way we power our world is true. Energy storage systems have transformed from storing electrons to so much more. We now have digital tools, combined with agility and quick response, to help us design better systems for customers, improve battery life cycles, and deliver faster frequency response.

The smarter we are with embracing digital transformation and encouraging a technology-agnostic ecosystem, the better we can be at driving the transformation of electric grids. As costs for energy storage continue to decline, increasing value will be a key differentiator and market driver.

— Brett Galura, CTO, Fluence

Technology leaders in the energy industry have a unique opportunity to look at not only hardware, but also software and data-driven analytics, as tools for solving grid challenges. We recently acquired a company called AMS, now Fluence Digital, to utilize their AI-enabled optimized bidding software for energy storage and renewable assets. AI-enabled forecasting will help make electric grids more responsive. It will also make energy storage and renewable assets more lucrative and ultimately accelerate the decarbonization of power systems.

This AI-enabled software provides the price forecasting performance and proprietary bidding algorithms needed to automatically manage risks. This results in improved financial performance for wind and solar asset owners, increasing revenues for renewable owners by up to 10% over a 12-month period.

Also read: TECH FRI: In Conversation with DocuSign CTO on Digital Contract Transformation

4. What steps do you think are critical to understand in a digital transformation journey that can potentially protect energy storage companies from being vulnerable to disruptive entrants?

Energy storage software plays a unique role in its deployment and operation on the grid. The ability to generate powerful software and value-add applications requires a high degree of data fidelity. This means the more data you can acquire at frequent intervals, the more you can do. Companies that already have a large dataset have an even greater competitive edge that will be difficult for others to match quickly.

Furthermore, AI in energy storage requires a unique combination of expertise. Just having software expertise isn’t enough. You need knowledge of the warranty structures of the batteries, the commercial needs of customers, and the market requirements in that territory, and you need to be able to tie those together in one coherent analysis.

— Brett Galura, CTO, Fluence

You need to combine that technological know-how with deep market knowledge to enable functions that govern the battery’s operation, lifecycle, and performance.

Data science, computer science, electrical engineering, electrochemical engineering, safety science, economics, public policy, and many other areas of expertise all play a part.

Also read: Integration is the Next Big Thing in Cloud Based Apps: Q&A With Apparound’s Federico Bonarrigo

5. The Asia Pacific renewable energy market is on its way to becoming the world leader in energy storage, according to GlobalData. In what ways can industry players in North America and Australia drive the push for renewable energy technologies in phases?

While it is true that North America has been at the forefront in scale of energy storage development, the challenges in each market have unique elements that set different priorities for the commercial solutions. The technical solutions are similar, but the means of recognizing the most value for the market are often very different. So, to achieve the greatest value for energy storage customers, you really must be present within each local market.

Global presence has an additional benefit because global industry players can see and solve challenges from many markets, and each solution provides a reference for solving the next.

For instance, energy storage combined with run-of-the-river hydropower facilities creates what we call virtual dams, which can provide ancillary services to the local network. There is significant potential for this application in APAC.

— Brett Galura, CTO, Fluence

Energy storage can also be used to supplement or replace transmission and distribution infrastructure, what we call “virtual transmission lines”, to bring renewable energy from where it is produced to where it’s consumed. Australia is actively considering virtual transmission line proposals to meet the capacity demands from large solar and wind deployments.

6. In your opinion, will the energy storage-as-a-service (ESaaS) model allow energy storage companies to truly solve the decarbonization, decentralization, and digitization puzzle?

I think the model could definitely support additional uptake by commercial and industrial customers, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to solve decarbonization and digitization.

The ESaaS model is an interesting innovation that holds significant appeal for commercial and industrial customers who do not want to own responsibility for the upfront cost of an energy storage project. Or who do not have the market, financial, or technical expertise to commission and operate a system themselves.

— Brett Galura, CTO, Fluence

AI energy storage has proven it can do the jobs traditionally done by thermal generation assets like natural gas peaker plants. We are seeing enormous uptake in the utility-scale sector, where upfront costs and expertise are less of an impediment.

Utilities are picking energy storage and storage plus solar systems over natural gas based on economics. We’re at an inflection point, and the technologies we’re helping customers deploy today can get us most of the way to decarbonized, digital electric systems.

Also read: The Secret to Renewable Energy Storage: Would You Believe Chairlifts?

7. Which new energy storage technologies will you prioritize at Fluence in 2021 and beyond?

In 2021, we’ll continue to focus on pioneering new applications utilizing AI in energy storage, data analytics, and the cloud to:

  • Automate decision-making and increase revenue
  • Develop critical infrastructure resilient against inevitable climate crises
  • Make the move to mass productization as much as possible
  • Expand into new markets
  • Continue to help our customers like AES, LSPower, Enel, and PG&E meet soaring demand for clean, reliable power solutions and more adaptable grids.

In addition to the launch of Fluence Digital, we announced our sixth-generation energy storage technology stack, which helps drive down non-battery costs of storage systems by up to 25%. We also revealed new use cases for storage like virtual transmission to add transmission network capacity faster and at lower cost with greater benefits than traditional poles and wires projects, and “virtual dams” to add new capabilities and revenue opportunities for non-dispatchable hydro generation.

About Brett GaluraOpens a new window :

As chief technology officer, Brett Galura leads Fluence’s technology selection, integration design, controls development and market & system modeling for Fluence’s energy storage solutions. Prior to joining Fluence, Brett served in a variety of capacities over 20 years’ experience with the AES Corporation, including leading AES Energy Storage’s Solution Development team from 2010 onward, architecting and managing the deployment of multiple global information technology projects, overseeing commercial operations development in an AES retail electricity business, co-founding an AES telecom business, and directing AES’ IT operations expansion in Asia and the Middle East.

About FluenceOpens a new window :

Fluence, a Siemens and AES company, is helping drive the global energy transition with grid-scale technology, products, and services that help customers maximize the value and performance of single projects or entire portfolios of assets. Fluence delivers energy storage and bidding optimization software products and engineering, delivery, and operational services to customers globally. The company has more than 5.6 GW of storage and optimized bidding assets in operation or contracted in 29 markets.

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Tech Talk is an interview series that features notable CTOs and senior technology executives from around the world. Join us as we talk to these technology and IT leaders who share their insights and research on data, analytics, and emerging technologies. If you are a tech expert and wish to share your thoughts, write to [email protected]Opens a new window .

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