Energy Central Power Perspectives: Welcome New Expert Interview Series: Ashkan Rahimi-Kian, Smart Grid & Blockchain for Energy Guru and New Expert in the Digital Utility Community

Posted to Energy Central in the Digital Utility Group
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Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Oct 29, 2019

As the wide popularity of Energy Central’s recent special issues on blockchain and distributed energy resources (DERs) has shown, the power grid as we know it is changing rapidly and in transformative ways and utility professionals are eager to talk about it. Nowhere is that more evident than with regard to the digital utility, a term that many had not even heard before less than a decade ago. As cybersecurity practices become more important, smart meters and IoT-connected grid elements become more pervasive, and transactive energy looks to reshape what we thought we knew about energy markets, we need to look to experts in the field to parse through what’s going on and what we need to know moving forward.

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As such, the Digital Utility Group of Energy Central was fortunately to recently see Ashkan Rahimi-Kian added as a part of our network of experts. Ashkan’s decades of experience in the utility industry and his focus on transformative digital technologies like smart grids and blockchain make his voice an invaluable one, and so it’s only appropriate to get him to share a bit about that background in this latest iteration of the ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series’:

Matt Chester: The best way for our community to get to know you and why you’ll be valuable to them as an expert is to start with the basics—Can you let us know who you are, what your experience in the digital utility field is, and what your current role and responsibilities are?

Ashkan Rahimi-Kian: I am Ashkan Rahimi-Kian, a Canadian Citizen, holder of a Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering with focus on Power & Control Systems, Senior Member of IEEE, and Professional Engineer in Ontario, Canada.

I have about 24 years of professional R&D and software development experiences in power systems/smart grids planning, optimal operations and bidding strategy in transactive energy markets.  I have published about 140 peer-reviewed papers on the above-mentioned subjects. I am the founder and CEO at I-EMS Group Limited, a software solutions (SaaS) provider and consulting firm for smart grids, which is located at the IBM Venture Lab in Markham, Ontario, Canada.  


MC: A particular area of expertise you’ve identified is in transactive energy market, including how blockchain is able to power these markets. Can you give an overview for how blockchain could be helpful to tomorrow’s digital utilities, what advantages it brings, and what the future utilities would look like without it (so as to show how useful it is to have it)? 

AR: Blockchain and Digital Ledger Technology (DLT) have numerous technical capabilities that make them suitable software platforms for Transactive Energy Markets (TEM).  These technical capabilities include:

  • Peerto-peer (P2P) scalable business network with registered market participants (including the electricity system operator, distribution grid operator, prosumers and consumers of energy and financial institutions) and defined market/trading rules.
  • Smart contracts that encompass all the trading rules set by the ISO/TSO/DSO (electricity system and grid operators) and autonomously make the energy trades happen when all the trade conditions are met.
  • Consensus mechanisms, such as proof of stake (PoS) and proof of work (PoW), to help the peers reach an agreement when the ledger data of a new (or existing) node/peer differs from others.
  • Cyber Physical System (CPS) with different layers for: 1) connecting the IoT/AMI smart meters to the P2P TEM; 2) metered energy data mining and analysis for the P2P TEM participants; 3) integrating the simulation and optimization engines to the P2P TEM for market clearing and settlement processes.  Most importantly, the Blockchainbased CPS is highly secure and meets the cyber & physical security standards set by the ISO, TSO and DSO.       


MC: Another field that catches your interest is the smart grid. While it’s fun to talk about the benefits of this shift towards a smart grid, are there any areas of an increasingly smart and digitized grid that keep you up at night? For example, do you think as an industry we’re prepared from a cybersecurity standpoint? Or are there any concerns regarding data privacy of consumers?

AR: I believe that communication protocols developed for smart grids and smart meters such as OpenADR are safe and secure for communication and control of assets such as distributed energy resources (DER) and flexible loads (by means of demand response or DR).  Also, as mentioned before, the Blockchain-based Cyber Physical Systems are pretty secure for data/information exchange among peers in a Transactive Energy Market.  Therefore, we are ready to shift towards smart distribution grids composed of thousands of integrated sustainable Microgrids that could provide most of their energy demands and also trade with neighboring Microgrids by means of P2P TEM.  If we look at major power utility roadmaps, such as Duke Energy, and electricity system operators, such as NYISO, the creation of pilot (or proof of concept) sustainable microgrids (both on & off grid ones) and P2P TEM infrastructure are on their roadmaps.

MC: As digital utility topics continue to jump up the list of priorities from utility executives, are there any technologies or strategies that you think are currently flying under the radar that will receive a surge of interest in the coming years like smart technology has in the past few years? What’s the ‘next big thing’?

AR: I believe Transactive Energy Markets are going to change the power utility business in the world, especially in USA, Canada, and Europe.  As the numbers of sustainable microgrids are growing, a secure, flexible, efficient, and user-friendly TEM platform is needed for trading energy within and among interconnected microgrids.  So most probably, the TEM design, trading rules, clearing mechanisms for efficient utilization of DER and DR assets, and proof of concept (POC) projects in US, Canada, and advanced European countries are going to be the next big things for the future of energy.


MC: Can you comment on what drew you to the platform and what value you find you get out of this type of community- and collaboration-driven resource? Conversely, what value to you hope to impart upon the community yourself?

AR: I have been a member of Energy Central Community since 2008.  I enjoy reading the technology news about US power industry, power utility business trends, and good articles from power industry professionals on the Energy Central website. I also like to be an active member of this nice community and share my knowledge and research outcomes about smart grids, transactive energy, blockchain for TEM, and DERMS software for optimal planning and operations of sustainable microgrids.


MC: Is there anything else you’d like the community to know that didn’t get mentioned in the above questions?

AR: I just want to thank you and your hardworking colleagues at Energy Central Community for creating such a nice, informative, and interactive society for power industry professionals to write articles, exchange ideas and ask questions for a better future of energy that could benefit all stakeholders including the electricity system operators & policymakers, power utilities, prosumers, and consumers of energy. 


Thanks again to Ashkan for his willingness to come aboard as a Digital Utility expert and for taking the time to introduce himself to the community in a more detailed manner via this interview. You’ll be able to find Ashkan throughout the Digital Utility Group on Energy Central, so please do say hello, thank him for his contributions, and let him know if you have questions on which you think his expertise would be valued!


The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interesting in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.


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Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Oct 29, 2019

Blockchain and DLT technologies are indeed quite good at "distributed database" functions that require low latency synchronization, that also provide built in data integrity into the ledger, including proof of work and hashed ledger blocks. One of the key features of DLT technology that's used in cryptocurrency system is the perceived anonymity of transacting parties. I'm interested in knowing if Ashkan sees a need/purpose for anonymity in the TEM. Thanks.

Ashkan Rahimi-Kian's picture
Ashkan Rahimi-Kian on Oct 29, 2019

Thanks Richard for the comment and good question. I think, the more anonymous TEM the better to preserve the privacy of the TEM participants.

However, we already know that the TEM participants are only known to each other by means of some encrypted ID's, for transaction negotiations, contract agreements and TEM settlements.  Only, when there is a breach of contract and debate between two TEM participants, the TEM regulator will know more details about the TEM participants who are in a debate, so that the regulator body can judge the situation better and make a final decision.

I hope my answer satisfies you.




Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Oct 29, 2019


Jason Price's picture
Jason Price on Oct 30, 2019

Great interview! The TEM movement is incredibly nascent and really exciting. Ashkan, do you see a change in the regulatory environment that will allow utilities who are not currently permitted to generate in their franchise to overcome this with Microgrid's and hence be permitted to participate in TEM? How else can a regulated utility participate in TEM?  Lastly, back to Microgrids are you advising that developers over size them with the intent to supply a greater audience through a future TEM-like model? 

Ashkan Rahimi-Kian's picture
Ashkan Rahimi-Kian on Oct 31, 2019


Thanks Jason, for nice comments and questions. I will do my best to answer your questions below:

JP: Ashkan, do you see a change in the regulatory environment that will allow utilities who are not currently permitted to generate in their franchise to overcome this with Microgrid's and hence be permitted to participate in TEM?

ARK: Based on what I have read from public utility (PU) and ISO reports (in both US and Canada) and the current projects we are involved in, they want to promote development and operations of sustainable Microgrids within DSO's jurisdictions to promote clean energy/GHG reduction and Grid reliability & efficiency improvements. They just want to do it through numerous pilot and POC (proof-of-concept) projects before full commercialization.  

JP: How else can a regulated utility participate in TEM? 

ARK: I think via the existing demand response programs (DRP) managed by the ISO and PU/LDC/DSO. DRP auctions could easily get converted to TEM-based DRP by means of Blockchain technology.

JP: Lastly, back to Microgrids are you advising that developers over size them with the intent to supply a greater audience through a future TEM-like model? 

ARK: Based on its definition, a Microgrid's size is: 100 kW to 50 MW from different reports; so, I agree with you that MG developers could opt to build 50 MW ones to become more adaptable as TEM participants within PU/LDC jurisdictions.

I hope my answers satisfy you.





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