EnergyInformation TechnologyUtility

“Computing at the Rugged Edge” – IT’s Role in Leveraging Edge Computing for Mobile Microgrids

By John Chavner, Director, Technology and Cloud Development, VoltaGrid

Introduction: Revolutionizing Power Generation through Mobility

The world of power generation has long been associated with massive stationary infrastructure, such as power plants and substations. However, in recent years, a silent revolution has been unfolding in the energy sector. It’s a transformation that involves harnessing the power of mobility, data, and edge computing to create dynamic and responsive energy solutions.

VoltaGrid, a company born from the intersection of innovation and necessity, stands as a testament to this transformation. In just over three years, it has evolved from a visionary idea into a formidable player in the energy landscape. The company’s journey from concept to success is a remarkable tale of leveraging Information Technology (IT) to enable mobile microgrids.

The Genesis of VoltaGrid: Mobilizing Power Generation

In the summer of 2020, VoltaGrid’s founders conceptualized a unique approach to power generation – taking Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) powered generators, typically found stationary behind data centers and hospitals, and making them mobile. This simple yet groundbreaking idea would set the stage for a revolution in the energy sector.

Today, VoltaGrid is not just a company but a phenomenon, mobilizing every generator that rolls off the production test line. The company’s growth has been nothing short of extraordinary. By January 2021, it had expanded from an initial team of 11 members to 26. A year later, in January 2022, the company had surpassed 200 employees, and today, it boasts a workforce of over 600 full-time professionals, with no sign of slowing down.

The ability to access real-time data is crucial in VoltaGrid’s operations. Dispatching CNG to fuel the generators is a finely-tuned operation that requires precise coordination and tracking.

The Heart of VoltaGrid: Mobile Microgrids

At the core of VoltaGrid’s innovative approach are its mobile microgrids, which are strategically deployed in various states, including Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. These mobile microgrids are engineered to offer flexibility, scalability, and resilience to meet diverse energy needs.

These microgrids serve as a reliable source of power in regions where power supply infrastructure is lacking or insufficient. They have been designed to handle average power loads ranging from 10 to 30 megawatts. However, VoltaGrid’s ambitions don’t end there. The company is actively working to establish sites capable of providing over 50 megawatts in a single location, a testament to their dedication to advancing mobile power solutions.

Remote Locations and Data Challenges

One of the distinguishing features of VoltaGrid’s operations is its deployment in remote locations. These remote sites pose a unique set of challenges, particularly concerning data transmission and management. Ensuring that data flows seamlessly is essential for the continuous monitoring, control, and optimization of the generators. To achieve this, VoltaGrid leverages satellite connections, which are essential for transmitting massive volumes of data to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Data Transmission Challenges and Solutions

VoltaGrid’s data journey has been nothing short of exceptional. Starting with just one fleet in July 2021, pushing a modest 40GB of data per month, the company has rapidly scaled its data operations. Today, it manages terabytes of data across its fleets, an indication of the massive data-driven nature of its operations.

This colossal volume of data must be efficiently transmitted to the cloud, where it can be processed and analyzed to support data visualization for internal teams and customers. To tackle this challenge, VoltaGrid primarily relies on StarLink for data transmission, with conventional satellite and LTE networks serving as backup options.

Weather Extremes and Robust Equipment

Many of the locations where VoltaGrid’s mobile microgrids are deployed experience extreme weather conditions. From scorching summers with temperatures exceeding 100°F to frigid winters with snowfall and sub-freezing temperatures, these regions demand robust technological solutions.

To ensure uninterrupted data flow and reliable operation of the generators, VoltaGrid has invested in industrial-grade servers and a communication network capable of withstanding the harshest environmental conditions. These rugged solutions provide the backbone of VoltaGrid’s operations, enabling uninterrupted data management, even in the face of extreme weather challenges.

Real-time Data: A Necessity, Not a Luxury

The ability to access real-time data is crucial in VoltaGrid’s operations. Dispatching CNG to fuel the generators is a finely-tuned operation that requires precise coordination and tracking. To ensure the timely and efficient delivery of fuel, VoltaGrid relies on GPS tracking, allowing dispatchers to closely monitor on-site fuel consumption.

Furthermore, the company’s remote and harsh operating environments make constant communication a necessity. On-site fleet operations teams use direct messaging applications to stay in touch with fuel dispatch services. They also remain vigilant for any situations that may require immediate intervention from senior leadership.

Unwavering Reliability: Operating 24/7

VoltaGrid’s operations are relentless, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The company’s commitment to uninterrupted power supply means that equipment can be moved between locations, even in the middle of the night. Once relocated, the generators must be started and operational before noon the following day. Achieving this level of efficiency and reliability hinges on effective communication, precise coordination, and the robust communication infrastructure that VoltaGrid has diligently built.

Data-Driven Excellence: Monitoring and Predictive Analytics

Internally, VoltaGrid employs a comprehensive system of monitoring and predictive analytics. The company tracks numerous metrics, including uptime, utilization, fuel consumption, downtime, and more. To enhance its operational efficiency, VoltaGrid leverages machine learning to predict fuel requirements, anticipate maintenance intervals for various key components, and monitor critical parts vulnerable to performance degradation due to temperature extremes, and dust and sand exposure.

The journey of VoltaGrid is a remarkable tale of innovation, resilience, and the power of data-driven decision-making. In a relatively short span, the company has experienced exceptional growth, leveraging rugged technology solutions to provide reliable power generation services in the harshest of environments. VoltaGrid’s commitment to data, technology, and operational excellence serves as a testament to its enduring success in a rapidly evolving energy landscape.