What is an Energy Ecosystem

What is the ‘energy ecosystem’? A look at how we enable the power grid of the future

By: Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens USA

Recently I gave a speech at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Innovation XLab Grid Modernization Summit to leaders representing government, electric utilities and the tech industry.


Like all speakers, I was introduced before I took the stage. For this speech, though, I knew I really had to introduce Siemens.


As I began my remarks, I wanted to share that our company has been bringing power to the world for more than 170 years. I wanted to share that our rise from startup to global company began with a passion for electrification – and how Siemens’ equipment now supports approximately a third of America’s power supplies.Yet when it came to the central question of the summit – How do we modernize the U.S. power grid? – I also wanted to point out that no one company, even one as experienced as ours, can manage this task alone. It requires collaboration between public and private sectors. One of Siemens’ greatest strengths is that we’re part of what we call an energy ecosystem focused on advancing emerging technologies


The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Laboratories, in particular, are key resources that foster collaboration and co-creation to maintain a broad culture of innovation across the United States, especially as we embark on advanced R&D efforts for grid modernization. 


Think about it this way: In 2000, the National Academy of Engineering developed a top-20 ranking of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century. The top of this list wasn’t space exploration; or the automobile and highways; or computers, the internet and telephone. It was electrification. As impressive as all of these other technological breakthroughs were, electrification – and our nation’s power grid – made all the other breakthroughs on that list possible.


But the XLab Summit had us focused on the innovations needed to enable the power grid of the future. Today we're asking the power grid – this great enabler – to once again become the great technological tool we need to address major megatrends like climate change and urbanization. 


One example is the electrification of transportation. Our analysis of Los Angeles’ greenhouse gas reduction targets found that deploying electric vehicles would contribute the largest reduction in emissions. But to enable this to happen, LA – like other cities and electric utilities across the U.S. – will need an automated, digitized grid capable of balancing power supplies with demand in real-time.


Utilities can also play a bigger role increasing electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Our model for LA found that the city would need an additional 192,000 more electric vehicle chargers to support near-universal electric vehicle usage. That’s 130 chargers installed per week – every week – for the next 30-plus years. No other market participant has the bandwidth that utilities do in this moment when we need chargers deployed in batches of tens of thousands – not 10 or 20 – at a time.


Utilities also can help advance standards for chargers so that electric vehicle users are not forced to continuously sign up for local, proprietary offerings. Owners should be able to pull up to any charger the same way one can pull up to any gas station. As we look ahead, working as an ecosystem, collaborating with the national labs, will allow us to continue refining and testing the technologies needed to support the transformation of the electric grid and the technologies that cities like LA will increasingly rely on to reach their sustainability goals.


Enabling this transformation requires an energy ecosystem. That’s why Siemens is working with a number of partners – nationals labs, universities, and private-sector companies – to advance the deployment of data analytics, artificial intelligence, digital twin technology, distributed energy systems, and cybersecurity across the energy sector. We’re focusing, for instance, on the support system for a grid with 100 percent renewable energy.


While I was in Seattle for the summit, I saw a powerful example of the energy ecosystem at work. I visited a 20-rack test datacenter where Siemens is working with Microsoft and partners to double the energy efficiency of data centers and simplify how we power servers. The pilot there could soon be commercialized as a game-changer for large consumers of energy. It’s a great example of why collaborative R&D research is integral to the future of power, and why we must continue to explore new partnerships within our energy ecosystem.


In fact, at the XLab Summit, Siemens strengthened our partnership with DOE by signing a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, with three of its national labs. Our plan is to explore the feasibility of new joint research to test and validate both software and hardware central to grid modernization.


Siemens is excited to explore this new venture with DOE. We’re excited, too, to continue our work with utilities to modernize the grid.


The ecosystem exists to help us figure out challenges. It’s there so we can enable the grid to help us do things we’ve never done before. It’s there to help us change the world.