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Tapestry: X's moonshot for the electric grid
October 29, 2021

Tapestry: X's moonshot for the electric grid

Weaving together the technologies, information and partners needed for clean, reliable and affordable electricity

Written by Audrey Zibelman, Vice President, Tapestry

In the Aussie summer of 2020, I saw Refik Anado’s Quantum Memories exhibit at the National Gallery of Victoria. The piece uses Google AI’s quantum computation research data to explore the possibility of a parallel world — processing around 200 million nature and landscape images to render a stunning and constantly evolving digital landscape (check it out here). As I stood engrossed by the beautiful image that captured so much complexity while also presenting a holistic view, I remember thinking it was the perfect analogy for the kind of dynamic visibility I’ve always wanted for the electric grid.

In my three decades as a utility executive, system operator and regulator working to make decarbonizing the grid affordable and reliable, I — like everyone else in the energy industry —  have been frustrated by the lack of visibility we have into the grid. Information is siloed between dozens of different organizations and no one has a complete picture of how electricity is made, moved and used. This is only becoming more challenging as billions of new devices like electric vehicles and solar panels come online and make the grid increasingly complex to plan for, orchestrate and keep in balance.

That’s why I left the energy sector earlier this year to lead an X team working on a moonshot for the electric grid, so I can help build the computational tools and capabilities that I, and others working to decarbonize the system, have always wanted. Our team’s moonshot is to develop a single, virtualized view of the entire electricity system and the tools to run grid simulations for any location and at any time scale.  Our mission is to make that information available and useful to everyone who is involved in building and planning the grid — from government policy makers to utilities, to developers and innovators — so we can move to a clean, reliable and equitable power system.

Tapestry weaves together the technologies, information, and partners needed for clean, reliable, and affordable electricity

Tapestry: weaving together a new view of the grid

Today I’m pleased to share that our project has a name: Tapestry. We chose this name because our mission is to weave together the grid technologies and partners that will be needed to make this new vantage possible. As I shared at the White House Leaders Summit on Climate in April, we can’t build our moonshot without the close partnership of the organizations who know the intricacies of the grid. That’s why over the last few months we’ve announced we’re in learning and development partnerships with a number of system operators and energy experts around the world. While each partner faces a unique mix of opportunities and challenges, they are all seeking to navigate the complexities of the energy transition while delivering their core goals of reliable and affordable service.

Here in the US we’re working with AES to virtualize their Indiana and Ohio grids to help them better integrate renewables and to facilitate their decarbonization and reliability efforts. In Chile, we’re working with the national electricity system operator, Coordinador Eléctrico Nacional, to virtualize the country’s transmission grid and help El Coordinador plan for the country’s ambitious targets to phase out coal and reach net zero emissions. In New Zealand we’re working with Vector Group to virtualize Auckland’s electricity network and help them manage fast-growing local rooftop solar, EV, and battery resources. And just last week we announced we’re working with Distributed Power Africa (DPA) in South Africa to accelerate their development of solar and storage to address the country’s frequent blackouts.

Today, I’m pleased to share for the first time that we’re also working with Consumers Energy in Michigan to get an accurate and up-to-date picture of their physical grid. To help with this challenge, we’ve been building tools for mobile devices to make it faster and easier for grid operators to capture information in the field — for example, taking photos of where poles and transformers are and what state they’re in, and integrating that information within a digital maps interface. We’ve been piloting these tools with Consumers Energy for the last few years and they’re now being used by field crews and system planners to help to track the status of 1.5 million assets across their network.

Although the challenges partners and power systems around the world face are different, the physics underpinning the grid is the same everywhere. Tapestry hopes to build the grid technologies that can help translate the lessons we learn in one place to another so that we can move to a decarbonized power system as quickly as possible. We are eager to work with government and industry partners who want to join us on this journey of innovation, collaboration and learning so we can build the tools everyone needs to unlock access to clean, reliable, and affordable electricity worldwide. Next week I’ll be in Glasgow for COP, meeting with organizations and people who are as passionate about decarbonizing the grid as I am. If you’d like to discuss how X’s new tools might help — come talk to us!

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