Volttron – an intelligent, leading edge energy sensing & control platform or too little too late?

In the last few years, the Department of Energy (DOE) has been funding an agent-based open source software platform called Volttron. At the recent GreenTech Media Grid Edge Live conference in San Diego Dr David Danielson, the Assistant Secretary of the DOE, described Volttron as a strategic initiative in integrating buildings and the grid. Certainly the objectives of Volttron are congruent with eNOS’s design objectives – real-time data processing and load control; intelligence at the edge (IoT); normalizing and presenting energy data from disparate data sources at different time scales; enabling Distributed Generation, islanding (off-grid) and microgrids; built-in security; and providing Automated Demand Response support. What’s not to like? There are too many overlapping open source efforts that are better supported, more mature and/or more forward looking. The Volttron ecosystem is too bound by legacy protocols (Modbus and BACnet) and too tied to a specific transport protocol (SMAP) and databases. And there appears to be the lack of an overall big system (vision) perspective informing the development of Volttron. Specifically, given the work done by the Allseen Alliance, the Industrial Internet Consortium, openHAB, Eclipse Smart Home et al, it is difficult to understand why precious development resources are being devoted to security and remote controller management. If the intention is to accelerate the transformation to a more heterogeneous energy generation and distribution model, it would be more helpful provide a well-defined set of OSGi modules that can be readily be swapped out as new and better messaging engines, load shedding algorithms, etc were developed. Undoubtedly the DOE is investing a significant amount of financial resources and technical talent and expertise in the development of Volttron. I certainly would not recommending pulling the plug on such a valuable contribution to thinking through the issues and challenges of building an open source building operating system. I would recommend that the Volttron team consider how to integrate their own development efforts with a new set of tools, standards and frameworks that may be able to accelerate their progress. The most pressing requirement may be to develop  a schema that better delineates core functional requirements (the apps required) at each scale – sensor and switch, controller, building, campus (physical and/or virtual) and cloud. In a future post I will expand on “The Power of Modularity”.

About the Author: Raymond Kaiser

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