Atomic energy body proposes fusion framework to manage British energy grids
When you need something reliable that won't drop out of support, open is the way to go
Energy grid operators could increase the reliability of their networks by adopting software designed to manage nuclear fusion experiments, claims the UK's Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).
According to the organization, operators are facing challenges from the changing nature of the electric power sector in the UK, with renewable energy sources being plugged into the grid alongside conventional generating stations.
The UKAEA conducted a six month study with British energy storage startup Sygensys into how fusion control software, known as MARTe, might be used to help grid operators cope with more dynamic supply and demand scenarios.
"There is a rapidly emerging need for improved control systems that provide system level control in addition to grid level harmonisation across generators and loads," said UKAEA Fusion Innovation Technologist Nizar Ben Ayed.
The study examined the "tech transfer potential" of the fusion control software to help resolve grid stability issues and prevent blackouts, he added.
MARTe, or Multi-threaded Application Real-Time executor, was created by UKAEA in 1995 and has been developed since then for the plasma control and protection systems at the Joint European Torus (JET) project.
Released as open source in 2010, the software has since been adopted by various fusion research programs, including the mammoth International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).
It is described as a real-time framework built over a multi-platform library which allows the execution of the same code in different operating systems, and is designed for hard real-time performance.
Sygensys CEO Andrew Larkins told us the aspects of MARTe that make it suitable for adoption by energy grid companies are that it is open, real-time and comes from a background of high reliability.
- Private company set up to oversee UK's prototype fusion reactor
- US Department of Energy solicits AMD's help with nuke sims
- Since humans can't manage fusion, the US puts millions into AI-powered creation
- America's nuclear fusion 'breakthrough' is super-hot ... yet far from practical
"Asset lifetimes can be incredibly long in this industry, with power stations or battery storage systems it could be 15 to 20 years, so one of the challenges is software going out of date or the vendor not supporting it anymore," he said, and this is why an open approach is needed.
The open approach means that code can be developed on a modular basis with clearly defined interfaces between modules, which helps when communicating between different devices and applications on the network.
One of the main advantages of the MARTe architecture is said to be the separation between the platform specific implementation and the real-time application code developed by the end user.
MARTe also comes from a scientific background, and was developed to a high standard of reliability, heading towards "aerospace level" of reliability, according to Larkins. "Because it would cost a lot if something went wrong during a fusion experiment," he said.
Larkins compared what Sygensys and UKAEA want to achieve with Linux Foundation Energy, an initiative from the Linux Foundation to help the energy sector transition from proprietary closed systems to open software running on industry standard hardware, but with the necessary level of reliability and deterministic response times.
In other words, it sounds like Sygensys and UKAEA see MARTe as the OpenStack of the energy industry, an open framework that different companies can use to operate their own applications, but with a level of interoperability.
The ultimate goal is to speed the energy industry's transition to decarbonisation, Larkins said, and to do that, systems must be easily maintainable, secure, and interoperable.
"MARTe certainly shows potential in all of these areas and could prove to be a real asset as it is further developed for commercial use." ®