UPDATED 09:00 EDT / DECEMBER 16 2020


Software-defined power grids: Linux Foundation group debuts platform for utilities

LF Energy, an industry group operating under the Linux Foundation umbrella, has introduced an open-source software platform called Seapath aimed at helping utilities operate their electrical substations more efficiently.

LF Energy announced the project this morning. The initial Seapath source code was developed by RTE, the operator of France’s national electricity transmission network, in collaboration with Canadian information technology firm Savoir-faire Linux. 

Electrical substations are a key component of power grids that come in many shapes and sizes, from multi-acre facilities to container-sized systems disguised as houses. They’re responsible for, among other things, transforming the high-voltage electricity generated by power stations into a lower-voltage form that can be distributed to homes. They also serve a variety of other functions, such as transferring electricity from wind farms into the power grid.

Modern substations are equipped with automation software and other types of applications such as cybersecurity tools. Those applications, in turn, are becoming more complicated as utilities upgrade their power grids to address new operational requirements. With Seapath, the LF Foundation is hoping to make it easier for utilities to manage their increasingly complex information technology infrastructure. 

Seapath is a software platform on which utilities can deploy automation applications and other workloads they need to run inside their substations. Currently, different applications often have to be deployed on different kinds of hardware, which makes maintenance difficult. The vision behind Seapath is to replace those disjointed hardware systems with a single, open-source platform deployed on commodity servers that can run all of a substation’s software.

The concept has certain similarities to software-defined networking in data centers, which are also intended to boost efficiency by replacing proprietary hardware systems with software running on commodity servers. The benefits that Seapath are aimed at providing are similar as well. LF Energy says that consolidating substation applications on a single platform powered can reduce maintenance complexity, while in the process lowering costs.

The platform is designed to work with popular tools such as Docker and Open vSwitch, a free software-defined networking platform. One layer of abstraction higher, the platform will be capable of running a broad range of substation applications. They include automation tools, cybersecurity software and the monitoring software utilities use to keep tabs on hardware health, among other things.

Beyond simplifying operations for power companies, LF Energy hopes that Seapath will encourage more innovation by providing a common foundation for software development efforts in the energy sector. 

“With the support of some of the industry’s leading grid operators and technology providers, SEAPATH will enable the cross-industry collaboration that is required to build customer- and vendor-agnostic virtualization technology,” said Lucian Balea, a research and development program director and open-source manager at RTE.

Image: Unsplash

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