“Making invisible visible:” Vector signs up with X for electricity grid moonshot

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New Zealand energy distribution company, Vector Group, has signed up to take part in a “moonshot for the electric grid” – a strategic collaboration with US outfit, X, that will include “virtualising” the country’s largest electricity network.

The project, which from X’s end is being led by former Australian Energy Market Operator chief Audrey Zibelman, seeks to “make the invisible, visible” by making increasingly distributed energy dominated grids easier to visualise, plan, build and operate.

Having led Australia’s grid through some of its most perilous step changes to a renewable grid over the past four years, Zibelman joined X (formerly Google X) in January to head up this particular moonshot, starting with bringing together early stage innovation partners to develop and test prototypes.

For its part, Vector Group first presented its own grid virtualisation strategy to X in 2019, finding, says CEO Simon Mackenzie, “significant alignment” and putting together a team of experts from both companies to work together.

“Electricity networks globally are critical infrastructure that can enable the urgent decarbonisation of transport and industry,” Mackenzie said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We must ensure an affordable transition through accelerating the deployment of new technologies, including digital platforms.”

The collaboration, officially announced this week, is focused on network virtualisation and simulation technology to reimagine the design, management, and operation of electricity networks and get ahead of increasing demands for distributed clean energy.

“The pressure is on for networks to rapidly evolve,” says Zibelman, speaking from years of personal experience at AEMO, where – among many other things – the race was on to accommodate world-leading uptake of residential rooftop solar.

“Our collaboration with Vector is rooted in our shared understanding that the whole industry has to transform. We are excited to partner with an industry leader like Vector as we collaborate on the development of solutions by combining our respective areas of expertise.”

Under Zibelman’s lead – her official title is vice president and general manager for X’s moonshot for the electric grid – the US-based team is developing grid virtualisation tools to support an efficient and rapid path to the global decarbonisation of the power system.

In New Zealand, Vector will deploy the solutions initially in the Auckland region, but also plans to make them available more broadly, given the urgent global need to decarbonise electricity networks.

“As an industry innovator, we’re proud to be part of a diverse set of experts to solve a meaningful global challenge,” said Vector chief digital officer Shailesh Manga.

“We want to ensure that Vector, and other transmission and distribution companies, have the tools to dynamically manage their systems, ensuring we’re never in the way of customers wanting to adopt renewable energy solutions and electric vehicles.”

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