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Power industry vet Zibelman leading X's power grid moonshot

image credit: Photo 121570727 © Leowolfert | Dreamstime.com

Peter Key's picture
Freelance Writer, Editor, Consultant Lansdowne, Pa.

I've been a business journalist since 1985 when I received an MBA from Penn State. I covered energy, technology, and venture capital for The Philadelphia Business Journal from 1998 through 2013....

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To accommodate the amount of distributed energy resources that are going to be needed to decarbonize them, power grids are going to have to become a whole lot more decentralized, which will make managing them a whole lot more complex.

X wants to help.

The Alphabet subsidiary that specializes in trying to achieve transformational technological breakthroughs announced at the White House Summit on Climate that it’s been working on what it calls a moonshot for the electric grid for three years.

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The announcement was made in a blog post by X CEO and Moonshot Captain Astro Teller and at the summit by Audrey Zibelman, who has been heading the power grid moonshot since January.

Prior to joining X, Zibelman was the CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator, where she helped form the Global Power System Transformation Consortium, an organization that works to help rapidly decarbonize grids by sharing research and information. At the summit, she announced that the United States and United Kingdom are joining the consortium.

As AEMO CEO, Zibelman was in the grid operator’s control room working to keep the lights on when unprecedented bushfires were sweeping through Australia.

“We were losing major parts of the system,” she said. “The limitations in our modeling and visualization tools meant we had to act with incomplete information. Because it was all they had, our engineers relied on experience rather than accurate data to make critical decisions.”

The moonshot Zibelman is overseeing at X is aimed at determining if, in the future, engineers in grid operators’ control rooms will be able to get accurate data to help them make critical decisions when dealing with events such as the Australian bushfires or the cold snap that hit Texas earlier this year.

As Teller wrote on his blog: “Some of the questions that we’ve been exploring via prototypes with industry partners include:

• “Is it possible and useful to create a virtualization of the electric grid that is so detailed it can understand all the power being pulled from the grid, in real time?

• “Is it possible to forecast the weather so accurately that we could know when and where the sun will be shining and the wind will be blowing?

• “Is it possible to create tools that can rapidly predict and simulate what might actually happen on the grid, whether it’s in the next few nanoseconds or decades in the future?

• “How do we make information about the grid — in its past, present and possible future states — useful to everyone who is involved in building, updating and managing the grid?”

Both Teller and Zibelman said anyone interested in working with X on its power grid moonshot should reach out to Zibelman.

Zibelman also can draw on contacts from her years of experience in the electric power industry in the U.S. before she moved to Australia. She chaired the New York Public Service Commission when it and other state agencies launched Reforming the Energy Vision, an initiative to make New York’s grid cleaner and more resilient while reducing the cost of electricity by putting energy efficiency and clean, locally produced power at the core of the state’s energy system.

Prior to that, Zibelman was president, CEO and co-founder of Viridity Energy, a startup that focused on aggregating DERs into virtual power plants, which she left her role as chief operating officer of PJM Interconnection to join.

But, as she wrote on a blog for X, she “first learned about the importance of combating climate change as a young teenager in Philadelphia at the very first Earth Day celebrations in 1970.”

Zibelman didn’t say on the blog what she thought of Redbone, who performed for the occasion.

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