Working together to accelerate the digital transformation of electric utilities

Q&A with our CEO Robert Denda and Jeffery Torrance, SVP, Product Management, Connected Smart Systems, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.


Q&A: Can you tell us more about your industry trends and the collaboration between Gridspertise and Qualcomm Technologies?

Robert Denda: The energy transition is defined by two major trends: decarbonization and electrification.

With the increase of distributed energy resources, utilities are no longer the dominant producers of electricity. Moreover, the growing energy demand associated with the electrification of transportation and other final uses, results in a higher complexity of power flows, which require for more intelligence at the edge.

This is the reason behind the QEd - Quantum Edge® device, our cutting-edge solution which represents a leap forward in network infrastructure digitalization, enabling DSOs to run key grid functionalities directly on the edge. We decided to collaborate with Qualcomm Technologies, world leader in wireless technology, to integrate QEd with the most up to date, secure, scalable industrial grade IoT solutions.

We recently announced our expanded collaboration at MWC 2022 to explore opportunities for the development of new solutions to help electric utilities manage the increasing complexity of the grid.

Jeffery Torrance: The utility industry’s response to decarbonization and electrification challenges are manifested in equally significant global trends towards digitalization of systems and processes and decentralization of grid operations. Digitalization brings pervasive connectivity to all grid assets, providing timely information and situational awareness, while decentralization extends utility’s operational capabilities to the edge of the network for precise monitoring and control of distributed energy resources and smart loads.

Qualcomm has been a leader in IoT technologies for years and has helped the evolution of different sectors, from automotive to smart cities, to smartphones and many other applications, with solutions that deliver scalable AI and compute capabilities, strong security, reliable and high-performance connectivity. The same foundational technologies that paved the way for digital transformation in other industries will help utilities in their digital transformation towards a more efficient, resilient, and sustainable grid.

This is why Gridspertise selected our capabilities in the development of its QEd- Quantum Edge® Device, which brings edge intelligence inside secondary substations, to manage in a timely and efficient way the complexity of energy flows from dynamically changing supply and demand resources.


Q&A: How will the QEd - Quantum Edge® device push the transformation of the energy sector?

Robert Denda: Thanks to its decentralized computational capability, the QEd runs key grid functionalities on the edge, increasing reliability of the network and improving service quality for end users. In particular, the QEd allows applications to be run for all the most important network automation functions: asset health and performance monitoring, loss minimization, fault location identification and service restoration, real-time control, power quality monitoring, metering data management and much more.

The solution can improve the safety and security of grid operations, and with real-time fault detection, utilities can identify issues quickly and perform maintenance remotely, reducing operational, training, and maintenance costs. With predictive maintenance, utilities can detect when their infrastructure may potentially fail and reduce overall downtime, therefore, improving their operations and quality of service. Utilities can analyze power flow and predict surges for more efficient energy delivery. By reducing field interventions and secondary substation components, the QEd will make networks more efficient, sustainable, and reliable. The QEd architecture enables Gridspertise to deploy new innovative applications over time, offering customers value-added services and enabling the ecosystem to generate new revenue streams.


Q&A: Going into more detail about the solution, how did Qualcomm Technologies contribute to its development?

Jeffery Torrance: Gridspertise’s QEd is powered by Qualcomm Technologies’ next-generation industrial-grade System-On-Chip (SoC) with an octa-core ARM 64-bit processor and various DSPs. It is a powerful platform for connectivity, compute, and security at the edge. Furthermore, the device contains Qualcomm Technologies’ built-in AI engine to support edge applications for predictive maintenance, security, operation, surveillance, and safety. The Qualcomm® AI Engine leverages both edge and cloud computing to monitor and analyze data from various sources for a more efficient real-time operation. The device also supports the most advanced connectivity standards, including 5G as well as fiber optic, supporting managed transition to future connectivity standards.


Q&A: What were the main challenges overcome by your sectors while developing the QEd?

Robert Denda: The QEd was developed based on stringent industrial requirements, including strongest cyber-security requirements, an extended temperature range (-25o C to +75o C), enabling the device to be deployed globally and a long-life cycle (>10 years), future-proofing the solution for utilities. The solution needs to have a range of communication features including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, and 5G and to balance powerful processing with power-efficiency for maximum sustainability.

Jeffery Torrance: On the device side, our selection of a SOC/module was driven by the requirements for a ruggedized device with long operating life. Another consideration was support for dedicated SOC compute resources for managing real-time and non-real-time applications and the corresponding end-to-end cybersecurity requirements. The system is flexible to accommodate full lifecycle management of new applications in the future.

This project required close coordination and collaboration between multiple development partners to design and develop a complex solution that includes full edge to cloud integration.


Q&A: Can you tell us more about the roll-out plan for this new technology?

Robert Denda: Enel manages more than 1.2 million secondary substations around the world, out of which roughly half a million are remote controlled. In the current US market context, and also at global level, where grid modernization investments are at the center of any utilities’ business plans, an innovative technology such as QEd that enhances legacy infrastructure with an all-in-one solution, designed by the largest distribution grid player in the world, is strategic for any utility undergoing investments.

Gridspertise is launching a co-creation program to collaborate with pioneering local utility companies, test the solution and leverage on market insights to develop new applications and enrich its functionalities.


Q&A: Why do you think the collaboration between utilities and technology companies is necessary?

Jeffery Torrance: We believe that a system-wide approach must be adopted to achieve the digitization of a complex system such as the power grid. Strategic partnerships, such as this one, are critical in the creation and optimization of new solutions that address specific utility use cases. Our expertise in wireless, AI, and edge-computing, combined with Gridspertise’ know-how and experience coming from Enel’s leadership in smart grid solutions, enables us to drive digital transformation in the sector by addressing key industry-specific challenges.

As Qualcomm Technologies diversifies with new opportunities powering the connected intelligent edge, we will collaborate with leaders like Gridspertise to continue to build a transformative ecosystem that addresses transformational changes now and in the future.

Robert Denda: To deliver powerful cutting-edge solutions such as the QEd, we are adopting an open innovation approach, combining our expertise in the digitalization of grids with the one of our technology partners. We are proud to bring together our know-how with Qualcomm’s leadership in wireless technology, to integrate QEd with the most up to date, secure, scalable industrial grade IoT solutions.


Q&A: What do you think this collaboration can lead to?

Jeffery Torrance: This collaboration will demonstrate and pave the way for introducing pervasive connectivity and computing at the edge for critical grid applications, including real-time monitoring of the grid infrastructure, local and system-wide situational awareness, and granular control of distributed energy resources. QEd’s platform will facilitate the introduction of new software solutions at the grid edge and in the cloud. It will help expand the developer ecosystem to accelerate agile deployment of solutions that keep pace with the changing mix of new supply and demand resources.

Robert Denda: In addition, this collaboration provides a framework that can lead to the creation of new solutions for energy asset monitoring and advanced applications for grid management based on the QEd – Quantum Edge® device. We aim to foster technological innovation, improve quality of service, health and safety compliance, and enable the transition to a low-carbon economy through reliable electrification.

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