Siemens Living Lab for the 21st Century Grid

First of the Smart Grid Living Lab interview series—August 1st , 2013


Pierre Mullin

Pierre Mullin, Head of Product R&D for Energy Automation.

Siemens Canada and New Brunswick Power opened a smart grid competence center in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada in the summer of 2012. By using Siemens Smart Grid Compass methodology, Siemens will support New Brunswick Power in the modernization of its electricity system in a multi-year partnership. The following interview is with Pierre Mullin, Head of Product R&D for Energy Automation. He is currently working with a diverse team of 16 to design and rollout smart grid software, among other focus areas. 

Could you explain how the following four sides will benefit from this venture and the interconnection that exists between them?  1) Siemens 2) New Brunswick Power 3) the province of New Brunswick and 4) New Brunswick universities?
This initiative is creating a virtuous circle that builds upon – and builds up – the strong local base of software development and engineering expertise in both the commercial and academic sectors, through innovation on a next-generation smart grid by Siemens and NB Power.

NB Power will be deploying a world-leading smart grid that will not only result in significant cost savings, but will also create a sustainable energy infrastructure.

For Siemens, this initiative will give us a “living lab” that we can use as a demonstration showcase for potential clients, in addition to strengthening our overall smart grid product portfolio.

Local engineering and IT firms will build expertise that they can use in New Brunswick and export to other markets.   All stakeholders will benefit from an enhanced focus on smart grid research at local universities and colleges, which will create a cohort of next-generation smart grid professionals.

It was stated in The Herald online that “the majority of new hires have been local, aligning with Siemens´ strategy to bring the best of global smart grid knowledge together with local expertise from New Brunswick´s impressive talent pool.” Could you elaborate on this?

The Fredericton Smart Grid R&D team was recruited locally, but in addition to several native New Brunswickers, there also includes individuals who hail from all over the world. The common element for many of the new Canadians on our team is that they came to Canada to obtain graduate degrees and decided to stay.   This is a big win for Canadian universities and the local economy.   Canada has been a nation of immigrants that has evolved over the last four hundred years, with each wave bringing its own unique blend of skills and cultural background.

Our customer facing CoC (Centre of Competence) team has a similar degree of diversity, blending local expertise with staff brought in from around the world, including Siemens experts from Europe and a noted smart grid author and consultant from Texas.

You mentioned that your team has a very diverse background. What is so special about this diversity?

Our diversity brings many different perspectives and approaches to problem solving to the table.  It also enhances our global view of the market. On a social level, it is amazing to learn about other cultures and traditions.

It’s also quite interesting that since we are all working in software development, we share a lot of common background in terms of software development technologies that cut across languages and cultures.   So while, we may not all speak Mandarin, Hindi and German, Java, C and XML are familiar to all of us.

And how does your background fit into this team?

I am a native “Frederictonian” who has lived in the US and other parts of Canada and made my way back to Fredericton several years ago.   After obtaining my university degree in Computer Science, I started my career in utilities (NB Power, actually) and then moved into software product development and consulting.   The opportunity to take on a leadership role with the Siemens Canada Smart Grid team was an almost uncanny match with my professional background.

Software plays an important role in the smart grid. What areas of the “softgrid” are you currently researching?

Our current focus is on demand-side management, with a specific focus on analytics, load control optimization and building adaptable interfaces to a broad range of devices and technologies.

All of these things allow our customers to fine tune how they manage the generation and consumption of energy resources at a level that was simply not possible before the “Smart Grid Era”.   So instead of having massive over-capacity to deal with peak consumption, utilities can now optimize the overall capacity=consumption equation instead of “chasing peaks”.  This avoids the need to have to build and operate expensive generation resources that are idle much of the time, not to mention having a significant impact on the environment.   We can be both green environmentally, and save on the green financially.

What is the difference between software for the energy industry compared to software of other industries, especially those that are further along in their IT development e.g. healthcare, telecommunications and finance?

With these technologies, we are pulling the power distribution grid into the 21st century.  Although other domains—such as telecommunications, manufacturing and healthcare—have undergone fundamental “digital transformations” in the past 20 years or so, the local grid uses the same fundamental architecture as when it was put in place over a 100 years ago, with perhaps the exception of solid state protection technology.

Another very cool thing about what we are doing is that we are at the very center of the “Internet of Things”, where our software technology is connected to the real world, peoples’ homes and workplaces, and can directly interact with appliances and equipment. It’s nice to have this tangible aspect of what we produce, as opposed to working on something that only exists in “the cloud”.

Will these innovations be available for use abroad or only in Canada?

Our product development focus is global and our DRMS software is already being used outside of Canada, especially in the United States where mature and sophisticated market mechanism have evolved that allow consumers to sell Demand Response “negawatts” just like a generator can sell electric power into the grid.  Our intent is to build on this base with additional enterprise and embedded software product offerings.

The enterprise software side of our product development provides the “back office” systems for managing demand management programs and the “command and control” of demand response events.

The (yet to be announced) hardware and embedded software solutions will allow Siemens to offer even more pieces of the overall smart grid and “Internet of Things” puzzle.  These boxes will allow us to provide solutions that directly more easily connect the smart grid to customer premises.