If you’re a regular user of electricity, you’re familiar with this scenario: A thunderstorm booms, lightning streaks across the sky, and the room suddenly goes dark. Usually, the electricity whirs back on within a couple of seconds. But if the storm downed a utility pole, it could be hours; if it took out a substation, you’d better stock up on candles and shelf-stable provisions.
As climate change breeds harder rains and stronger winds, we can expect more frequent, and longer, power outages. But what if utilities could prepare in advance?
Imagine: Your power company analyzes meteorological readings to predict where and when a storm will hit. After consulting GIS data that pinpoints the location and elevation of each transmission tower, operators note the wind speed each tower can withstand and deploy crews and replacement parts for those likely to fail. As outages occur, software temporarily reroutes electricity around each disturbance, possibly even drawing power from customers’ electric car batteries and compensating them on the next month’s bill.
This is just part of the promise of GridOS, the world’s first comprehensive suite of grid orchestration software (that’s what “OS” stands for). Launched in February by GE Vernova’s Digital business, GridOS unites the company’s portfolio of AI-powered grid orchestration tools — including software to operate a safe and reliable grid, onboard renewable energy resources, and trade energy to meet demand — within one common platform. This sort of technology feeds on continuously updated, shared data sets — information that has been difficult for utilities to compile and analyze as a whole. Now, with the acquisition of Greenbird Integration Technology AS, a company specializing in data platforms for utilities, GE Vernova will be able to use proven technology to aggregate more information from multiple systems, allowing grid operators to use GridOS to assemble a real-time snapshot of conditions throughout the grid.
GridOS is designed to facilitate the transition to more renewable energy, which is making grid operation much more complex. Since Thomas Edison built the first public power plant in 1882, electricity has moved through the grid in one direction — from generator to consumer. But these days, customers can send energy back into the system, from solar panels on a rooftop, say, or EV batteries in their garage. To complicate matters further, as more and more energy is generated from large installations of wind turbines, solar panels, and other renewable energy sources, utilities must be ready to switch to other power sources when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. Meanwhile, demand for electricity has tripled over the past 30 years, and it’s expected to triple again by 2050.
All these challenges are converging on an aging system, with components in some cases dating back to the 1960s. “You’ve got this mash-up of old hardware that doesn’t fit the problem and a problem that’s not waiting around,” says Sean Moser, senior vice president and chief product officer of grid software at GE Vernova’s Digital business. “We’re used to the grid being like magic — you flip the switch, lights come on. We won’t tolerate anything less.”
As demand surges and new power sources emerge, grid management must evolve in step. “You cannot transition to more sustainable energy without advanced software,” says Andy Rector, vice president of engineering of grid software at Digital.
GridOS presents a more wide-angle view, but it requires data from sources across and even outside the grid. Fortunately, the data is available; unfortunately, as Moser puts it, it’s “a hot mess.” That’s because most of it is isolated within the utility’s individual departments. “To do the job right, I need information from all of them,” he says. “I need to know how much solar and wind power you’re generating, and how much electricity customers in each area are using, so that I know how much gas I need to burn on any given day.”
To compile a cohesive database, new information must be continually extracted from disparate sources, organized, and made available to downstream applications. That takes time — often hours — rendering the data obsolete amid the split-second pace of the grid. To address problems at the necessary speed — “we’re talking milliseconds to microseconds,” says Moser, “or else a lot of lights go out” — many electric utilities are already turning to AI tools. However, most of those tools were purpose-built to address specific problems, creating a patchwork of stopgaps that can’t work together or react to conditions outside their narrow scope.
This is where Greenbird comes in. Rather than consolidate information in one place, Greenbird’s energy-ready integration and analytics platform connects and integrates different data sources — including things like equipment sensors, market research, customer service reports, automobile traffic counts, and weather satellites — using a single, unified interface. “For users, these separate systems behave like one database,” Rector says.
“Think of it as a treasure map to all the potential pots of gold,” Moser explains. “You don’t have to worry about where any piece of information is stored, or when it was collected, or that it might have different labels in different systems. Just call up whatever you need to solve your problem.”
Unlike most data integration technology, which relies entirely on custom code, Greenbird’s platform provides a library of prebuilt connections for common applications and makes it easy to pull information from new sources. “Instead of the traditional approach — ‘I have one question, and I’m always going to fuse these two pieces of data to answer it’ — Greenbird maps all the data into a virtual space and draws threads through it,” Moser says. “I can say, ‘I want these 20 data points. Now I want to add two more. Or maybe I’ll only need these 15.’ I can combine it however I want.”
“Greenbird harnesses the power of data to help us better serve our customers as they work to solve electrification and decarbonization challenges,” says Scott Reese, CEO of GE Vernova’s Digital business. “By connecting relevant and important energy data, GridOS can help utilities better leverage renewables and both prepare for and respond to disruptions.”
The acquisition will also bring new talent to the GE Vernova grid software team — and Thorsten Heller, CEO and co-founder of Greenbird Integration Technology AS, is pleased to note that the companies’ cultures align as well as their software does. “GE Vernova and Greenbird have the same mission: to drive the transition to renewable energy,” Heller says. “We started in 2010 with a mission to simplify data integration for utilities, and that aligns very well with Digital’s vision for the GridOS data fabric and one-network model. By providing the data foundation utilities need to transform their operations, together we can accelerate the energy transition.”