Environment Variables
Nowcasting and Using Computers to Reduce Emissions
March 21, 2024
In this episode of Environment Variables, host Chris Adams is joined by Rachel Tipton, a full stack developer at Open Climate Fix, to delve into the intersection of AI, green software, and electricity infrastructure. Rachel emphasizes the increasing demand for electricity due to factors like server centers, EVs, and electrification efforts. They explore the concept of carbon awareness and its implications for software development, shedding light on the complexities of optimizing energy consumption and reducing carbon emissions. Through Rachel's journey into coding and her work at Open Climate Fix, listeners gain insights into the critical role of technology in decarbonizing the electricity grid and mitigating climate change.
In this episode of Environment Variables, host Chris Adams is joined by Rachel Tipton, a full stack developer at Open Climate Fix, to delve into the intersection of AI, green software, and electricity infrastructure. Rachel emphasizes the increasing demand for electricity due to factors like server centers, EVs, and electrification efforts. They explore the concept of carbon awareness and its implications for software development, shedding light on the complexities of optimizing energy consumption and reducing carbon emissions. Through Rachel's journey into coding and her work at Open Climate Fix, listeners gain insights into the critical role of technology in decarbonizing the electricity grid and mitigating climate change.

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Rachel Tipton:
I think it's really important that people are aware that our electricity infrastructure is going to have to handle a lot more electricity, whether that's going to be like server centers, like computers in different places, but also like EVs. If we're going to electrify everything, we're actually going to be using much more electrical energy in the future because it's going to be replacing those carbon-based fuels.

Chris Adams: Hello, and welcome to Environment Variables, brought to you by the Green Software Foundation. In each episode, we discuss the latest news and events surrounding green software. On our show, you can expect candid conversations with top experts in their field who have a passion for how to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of software.

I'm your host, Chris Adams.

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Environment Variables, where we bring you the latest news and updates from the world of sustainable software development. I'm your host, Chris Adams. When we talk about green software, it's common to start talking about energy efficiency, i.e. how much energy you need to perform some computation, or even hardware efficiency, i.e. how much physical hardware is needed to perform that computation. One idea that is less easy to understand is this idea of carbon awareness, an idea based around the fact that depending on where you are in the world or what time of day it is, the amount of fossil fuel being burnt to power the grid we rely on can change, which means the energy could be greener or less green.

This is because beneath the stack of technology that makes up the internet, there's an entire energy system that is at least as complex as the internet. And if you have visibility into that system, there are ways you can operate your systems at the level above to take advantage of these changing conditions, often to save on carbon emissions, and in some cases to save on cash too, as the price of energy can often change based on the amount of cheap renewable energy being fed into the grid that we draw electricity from.

As I mentioned before, this is an idea that takes a bit of getting used to, and when you hear it from publicly traded trillion dollar companies whose own reported emissions have only grown in the last few years, you may be right to be skeptical about carbon awareness. Now at FOSDEM, the largest open source conference in the world, in February, my guest, Rachel L'Abri Tipton at Open Climate Fix presented a fascinating talk about solar nowcasting, something we'll cover later.

But crucially, as someone who recently switched careers, both into software engineering and into working with grid operators, she seemed a good person to talk to, to learn more. Hi, Rachel. I've given you a bit of context about how we met. But I figured, can I just give you the floor to let you introduce yourself before we start?

Rachel Tipton: Hi Chris, thanks for having me on the show. I enjoyed listening to the other environment variable episodes

in preparation for the show and I think that I'm a convert. So I'm Rachel Tipton, I'm a full stack developer at Open Climate Fix, OCF, that's the shortening of Open Climate Fix, is a non-profit product lab, and we're developing renewable energy forecasts to decarbonize the electricity grid. We'll get more into that later, but I'm really happy and excited to be here speaking about my own coding journey today and my time at Open Climate Fix. In addition to speaking at FOSDEM, I was also part of organizing the energy dev room program that I spoke in, and that was organized by LF Energy.

So I was volunteering for them and I ended up submitting the application for Open Climate Fix to speak. So I then asked if I could present some of the slides

that they I had a plan for us to speak with, because I thought that we should be talking at the conference. I also write a blog called the Tech Generalist.

I only have about three articles in it, but that's something that I've been doing since I started my coding journey. And then I also participate in Women Who Code events with the London chapter of Women Who Code.

Chris Adams: Cool. Thank you, Rachel. And when you refer to LF Energy, you're referring to Linux Foundation Energy, right? That's one of the organizations that was, okay, got it.

Rachel Tipton: It's a small group within the Linux Foundation.

Chris Adams: Okay. Thank you for clearing that part up. Okay. So if you're new to this podcast, my name is Chris Adams. I am the executive director of the Green Web Foundation. Which is a Dutch-based nonprofit, basically focused around the idea of a fossil-free internet by 2030. But I'm also one of the policy working group chairs in the Green Software Foundation Policy Working Group.

I'm also one of the regular hosts of this podcast. Okay. And just a quick reminder, everything we talk about on this show, we're going to link to in the show notes, and there will also be a transcript provided. So if there's something that you missed the first time, there should be something available.

And because this is a software engineering podcast, we also have this transcript and the links, the show notes in markdown form on a GitHub repo that we'll be linking to. So if there's something you missed, or if there's something you feel that you need to be corrected, we do welcome pull requests. All right.

Okay, Rachel, I was going to ask if you're sitting comfortably, but I realized that you're standing where you are in the world. So I guess, should we start? Does that sound okay to you?

Rachel Tipton: Sounds great.

Let's go. 

Chris Adams: All right. Okay. So we've teased the audience with a few kind of geek catnip terms, like solar nowcasting and so on. But before I dive in, I wanted to ask. I know that you grew up and studied in America, but I think you, I think you mentioned that you're calling me from France and you haven't always been a software developer.

So could you maybe expand a little bit about that before we dive into the nerdery?

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. So I'm actually speaking to you, Chris, from Olsene. It's a small village in Belgium near Ghent, for people know where Ghent is, that's the point of reference. I grew up outside of Chicago in a state called Indiana in America, and I've lived and worked in France since 2011. So I moved to France in 2011, and my time is split between Lille, which is a city in the north of France, and then this village in the rural area of Belgium. So we have a big garden and it's quite springish outside today. So we've got a magnolia tree that's in full bloom and it looks really nice. And we've had a lot of rain this year in Belgium, so our basement is flooding. Everybody's basement is flooding here. We've had twice as much rain as we usually get.

Chris Adams: Wow. So firsthand experience of changing climates. I guess. Yeah. You, you can't deny some of that then. All right. 

Rachel Tipton: No, no, not at all. Yes. I think it's important to say that I'm a writer and a maker and for most of my 20s. I made my life decisions based on being able to have time to write and have time to make art. Some of that writing is out in the world. A lot of that writing is probably in some place in manuscripts, but that's like who I am at the core. And so I didn't study computer science or physics or engineering like some of my current colleagues, but I studied English literature and geography. I did have a stats course in my geography study. So that was kind of like the beginning of my exposure to data.

And I got out of university with critical thinking skills and really good writing skills, but no clear career path. 

So I'm an interesting person. I have lots of interests, can talk about many things, I read voraciously, but really up until I decided to shift into coding, I hadn't felt like I had a career of some sort. So I had been, when I decided to try coding, I'd been working as a freelance technical editor and writer alongside teaching English full time at a university in the north of France.

I was also teaching at business schools as well. And I had ended up in France because I wanted to learn French. So that was part of, you know, "I want to be a writer. I think learning a second language would be great." Now that I have, you know, I spend part of my time in Belgium. I'm in the Dutch speaking area of Belgium.

So of course, I've also... 

I speak Dutch now to like a intermediate level. So I think it's that language learning part of myself that actually made it quite easy to start learning coding languages because I understand syntax and I understand patterns within language and that

like, I really love grammar.

Like I love doing grammar exercises and I feel as though solving code problems are to some degree beginning to understand the grammar of a coding.

Chris Adams: Oh yeah. I see 

Rachel Tipton: Remember we have a coding language and then beginning to understand like larger data structures is like beginning to understand like paragraphs that lead to arguments that, you know, that you can build something with your code structure in the same way that you do linguistically with language.

I know not all coders approach coding in that way, but that's the aspect of myself that perhaps made me attracted to learning how to code.

Chris Adams: No, I could totally see that. Like I live in Germany and when I came from England to Germany, one thing I picked up was, well, the way that you can just like bash words together to make longer words. When I first came here, I was terrified of how long all the words were. Then you realize they're just like one word linked to another word linked to another word.

It feels like, "Oh, this is just like jQuery. It's just like chaining," you know? And then when I realized that I was like, "Oh, okay, this makes a lot more sense." So I totally see where you're coming from actually on this, Rachel. So yeah, I'm also glad that it's not just me thinking about this. So yeah, that's reassuring.

Rachel Tipton: Yeah, syntax is really, really exciting. Okay. Yeah. Let's see, like in my story, in the, it was the middle of the pandemic when I decided I need to make a change. I think a lot of people had some sort of... I've talked to people who've had a moment of, "Oh, I need to shift something fundamentally in my life," and for me, it was my job and my career. I loved the process of teaching English at the time. I loved my students. I'd even been able to develop a, like a creative writing class for, at the university where I was teaching. So it was really great to get to teach poetry and short story writing to my students, but everything else outside of the teaching was really draining.

And even though I had time in the summer to do my writing, I was completely burnt out, which I think a lot of people who teach have experienced burnout before. So I was also very, very tired of a myth that I had for myself of being like, needing to suffer to be an artist. I think that was like a holdover from my twenties.

I've talked to other artists who have this. 

Stepping into the 

Chris Adams: artist stereotype thing.

Rachel Tipton: It's the starving artist stereotype. And I think I bring it up because I think it's false. And unless you are a well funded suffering artist, then it's hard to live that artist's life. And so 

for me, I was also looking to make a decent living so that like the environment in which I was making art was a little bit more just like financially stable. And then I didn't feel as though I was like giving my heart to my job and not getting anything back from it. So

yeah, that was the place where I was. So, a friend mentioned coding and I started to just started to research it. Like I contacted two people that I knew who worked in tech and one of

them was really encouraging.

He was like, "you know, the tech space needs more women. You can do it. Like, you'll figure it out. Like JavaScript is not rocket science." I trusted him and then somebody else had mentioned boot camps and this particular friend is a business analyst. So I just asked her to put me in touch with coders that she knew. And so she connected me with

two female coders and then I've talked to them and like through those discussions, I started to be exposed to words like front end, back end, full stack developer, and I had no idea what those words meant. Yeah.

That was like three years ago. It was just a lot of jargon, but I had also, as a technical editor, I had already worked in spaces where jargon was used and I know that jargon means stuff.

You just have to listen to it long enough and eventually it's meaning will clarify itself. It's like being a 

Chris Adams: I'm glad you mentioned about jargon thing.

Rachel Tipton: Mhm.

Chris Adams: Yeah. Because I, I think it's very easy for people to basically say, well, I'm not going to, you know, you can rag on jargon, but in many cases, it's actually a very efficient way to get something across once you've established a context. So I totally understand.

Like when you're using the term "MEAN stack" or 'Jamstack' or something like that, the fact that it means something is way, way, way, way, way faster than us having like another five minute discussion explaining what each letter means, for example, and things like that. So, yeah, I know where you're coming from there.


Rachel Tipton: Yeah, it's really, jargon is useful for the insiders, for the outsiders it makes it seem like it's much more complex

than it is. As a technical editor, I specifically had worked for a society of doctors who basically wrote papers on blood diseases, so it's like all of the papers were on bone marrow transplantation and I was editing it.

And there's so much jargon in that space around like treatments and diseases, but with time I eventually understood what they were talking about, just in basic terms I was able to actually write about it and talk about it. And so I had the same approach to the coding space. Like from that experience, I was able to apply that to being in a tech space and be like, "this is just like being with the doctors who, you know, thought that they were really 

Chris Adams: Yeah. It's not special. It's just new. Yeah.

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. Yeah. It's not special. It's just new. And I think if you show up with like a beginner's mindset, I like the idea of like the beginner's mind that's completely clean. You're just there and you're curious and you're learning. It's a really great experience to just move forward with that like confidence and humility at the same time.

Chris Adams: Cool.

All right. Thank you. So that gives us an idea of a potted history of where you were and where you came from and how Python or JavaScript might be a fourth or fifth language in the context, rather than just like a first or a second language in that sense. 

Rachel Tipton: That's how I'd see it. I don't speak Javascript or Python, but I can read it. Yeah.

Chris Adams: Okay.

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. 

Chris Adams: Like Latin, I suppose. All right. Okay. So that's some of the background that you had and you've been working with Open Climate Fix for the last few months or so. So that means like messing around with like Postgres or Python and like working up and down a technology stack, for example, and trying to figure out how to use computers for climate wins.

I found Open Climate Fix really interesting because Dan Travers, who was, he was actually one of the advisors and mentors for our organization a few years back when we were going through an Accelerator Progress program with the Green Web Foundation with Climate Subak, an organization. But I really like what they do and I really like the open approach.

So maybe you could just share a little bit about who they are, what they do, because I think that'd be quite helpful context in some of the discussions about computers, forecasting and how some of this fits and why you'd even care about any of this.

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. So the. Company Open Climate Fix was founded as a non-profit product lab five years ago. Like we just turned five, I think, what did it say, late February. So it was founded in 2019 by Dan Travers, who you've mentioned, and Jack Kelly, who worked for the Google DeepMind project. And yeah, the idea of Open Climate Fix is that we connect people who are doing ML research with the energy sector to help decarbonize it.

And the initial product that we've developed is called Quartz Solar, which is like a short term, like we've mentioned solar nowcasting, but it's a short term forecasting service. And I've tried to make this as simple as possible to explain to someone on the outside, but basically what we've done as like. The way, the place we've implemented the court solar forecast is with the National Grid ESO in their control room. So in the UK, there's funding that's called, I think it's National Innovation Allotment that an organization like National Grid can use to collaborate with an organization like Open Climate Fix to develop technologies that will

Chris Adams: I see. 

Rachel Tipton: reduce carbon emissions.

Chris Adams: Can I just check with you? Sorry to interrupt. You mentioned the national grid. So, and you also mentioned this term ESO. And maybe it might just very briefly, just to kind of give people who may not be grid specialists, what those terms mean. So national grid is the grid operator for all of the UK.

They maintain the UK grid, although they're actually, the company is actually active in more than one place. But this ESO term, maybe you could just unpack some of that cause it might be a bit more helpful for people.

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. So when we say National Grid ESO, we mean the electricity system operator. And what that means is they're responsible for operating the electricity system. So the grid that is getting electricity from where it's generated to people's homes. And they need to make sure that the electricity, that the amount of like electricity that's demanded by homes, businesses, everywhere, and the amount that's being generated is balanced on the grid.

Chris Adams: Gotcha. Okay. All right. Back to where we were. Yeah.

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. From my own learning journey within Open Climate Fix, there's so much that's happening around the grid, but the basics is that, for example, when I turn on my electric tea kettle, the grid is aware that it's giving me power and then it'll be shutting off that power at some point. And like power grids are balancing, are doing these balancing actions and balancing decisions are being made very quickly. And that's how a power grid works in very, very general terms, which is beyond, of course, my expertise, but it's what we work with at Open Climate Fix, which I find pretty cool. So the product that I work on is the Quartz Solar web application, and it consumes data from several APIs, and those APIs are serving a solar forecast. And so National Grid uses the Quartz Solar app, and I'm using this just as an example. There's other, we have other customers that are also using the Quartz Solar application, but National Grid uses it to make like real time balancing decisions. And so what that means is that they'll see how much solar energy is being generated on the entire UK grid.

And they're able to determine whether or not they're going to be using like electricity that's coming from fossil fuels being burned or electricity that's coming from solar.

Chris Adams: Oh, I see. So the idea being here is that because they, if they've got better information to this, then, you... so things like fossil fuels may be polluting and kind of not great in climate terms, but because they're dispatchable, that you can turn them on, they have a degree of controllability. So this helps you kind of balance some of this.

And maybe this is actually one thing that you, maybe we could expand on some of that in a little bit more detail, because you spoke about that some of this is providing some forecasting to reduce the amount of uncertainty so that you don't need to have so much kind of backup fossil fuels ready to kind of ramp up, for example.

And I think when I saw your presentation at FOSDEM, A, the control rooms just look, look exactly like you'd imagine a control room in a James Bond movie to look, but also the, there was this massive honking gray picture of a, some kind of gas turbine. Maybe you could like talk a little bit about that and how that relates to some of this, because I think how, like you mentioned, we just see power going in and on, but there's a whole set of complexity under the stack beneath us that we're not really aware of.

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. So the, the purpose of spinning reserves for a power grid is that you always have turbines that are running. Then that might be a gas powered turbine or a coal powered turbine, but they're at the ready in case energy is needed. So one of the reasons that a good solar forecast is important is that a lot of these turbines are running on the grid and they're just sitting there at 50 percent capacity, and they're also, when they run at 50 percent capacity, it's also 50 percent efficiency.

And they're not generating electricity for the grid. They're just kind of at the ready in case they need to be spun up or spun back down.

Chris Adams: Oh, I see. Okay. All right. So that's not a million miles away from how, like, if you want to have a computer running, for example, even inside a cloud system. Right. You still need to have a bunch of computers, which are still there and they're still idling and they're still generating, they're still generating heat and using electricity and so on, but they're not necessarily doing useful computation.

So the same idea also works at the kind of one level down with like a honking gray coal-fired power station or gas. So even if it's not generating power, it's still emitting just because you need to have some of that capacity ready for it to respond. Ah, okay.

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. And the the benefit of like having an accurate solar forecast is that you'll have fewer of these turbines that are running at half capacity. And you'll be able to make the decision, okay, we don't need, let's say you've

got 20 of them running, this is not at scale, but there's 20 of them in random places running ready to support the grid. You can make the decision if you have a very accurate solar forecast that, "oh, we'll have, let's say 50 megawatts of solar energy that's coming onto the grid. So really we can turn those off." And if they're, if you're confident with your solar forecast, then you can confidently make that decision and you'll be 

Chris Adams: I see.

Rachel Tipton: yeah, you'll be saving carbon emissions and then also the balancing costs of the grid, cause you're not burning fossil fuels at that point.

Chris Adams: Okay. So it's a bit like say if I've got a cluster of machines and I just know that I'm not going to have this much capacity, I can just like auto scale down a bunch of computers and presumably like with a cloud provider, they would switch that off. We would assume they would switch it off or something like that.

But that's kind of what it did. It almost like removing it from this pool of reserve capacity. That's what some of this is doing. And you said one other thing as well, is that just like how computers have like a area where they are, have optimal efficiency. It's the same thing with say some energy plants, right?

So they might not be a very efficient, say 60%, but if they're 80 percent capacity, then they're more efficient. There's a little bit like that, that you, you referred to as well, right?

Rachel Tipton: Yeah, exactly. I won't add any more to that. I also think of it as like, when we work like, for example, a part time job sometimes takes as much energy as a full

time job, but a full time job might be working more, like, it might be more efficient in terms of, like, bringing in income. Like, if you have to go to your part time job every day, you

still have, like, that get up and go in the morning, go to the job.

Chris Adams: Even though there's only that much. Yeah. I mean, even though you only do that many billable hours, you've still got the commute and all the other things, huh? That's actually a really useful comparison. I didn't really viewed it in that, in that way, but that makes it feel quite a bit more intuitive. Okay.

And so this sounds cool. Open Climate Fix has been doing this kind of work for a while. And when I look at the kind of GitHub repo full of OCF's work and speaking to various people, I know there are, there's a very, very kind of high nerd count over there. So presumably there'd been some calculations around like the annual savings or what you could achieve with this.

Because I understood that when I first, when I first saw kind of Jack doing some of this, Jack Kelly, I remember him writing these blog posts saying, "oh, I'm, I'm leaving Google. I want to work on climate change. I'm trying to figure out where I should spend my time." And I think one of the, I remember reading a post where he basically said, "well, I think this is the most effective thing I can do using my specific set of skills."

So presumably there's some number about the savings that could be delivered or that are being delivered by something like this, right? Cause it's been going for a while. Yeah. 

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. So, our back of the envelope calculation, which is what we call it, is the back of the envelope calculation, is that the operation of our solar forecasting live service, Quartz Solar, in the National Grid Control Room, saves about or decreases like UK carbon emissions by 000 tons per year.

Chris Adams: Wow. That's not bad for a team of... You're not really a big team, are you? There's like 

Rachel Tipton: No, we're around, well, around 12 people. So less than 10


Chris Adams: Wow. That's, that's pretty impressive.

Rachel Tipton: For me, getting to work on a project like this that can like say how it is impacting carbon emissions or decreasing carbon emissions in a large scale way, not just by like using electricity from like solar in my home, but actually seeing that like the energy transition requires that our infrastructure changes and how we operate our infrastructures.


Chris Adams: Cool. 

All right. 

Rachel Tipton: Yeah, it's impressive. I don't know what percentage of UK CO2 emissions that is per year, but that's the amount that we're calculating.

Chris Adams: All right then. Okay. Thank you. So, so just to record some, some kind of, okay, forgive the term grid choreography, you can actually achieve some of those savings like that. All right All right. So, okay. We've spoken a little bit about OCF and we spoke a little bit about some of the grids and how some of this works.

Now, I know that where one thing that, one thing that's kind of key in the Green Software Foundation is that there's a lot of open source code, because this is one of the ways to increase reach. And also in my organization, the Green Web Foundation, we have a similar kind of take on open. And like you folks, you literally have open in the name.

And if you're coming into, switching into a new field, it can be a bit scary working in the open to begin with. So maybe you could just touch on some of that first, before we dive into some of the specifics about this Quartz thing, because so far we've been speaking about open source and things like that, but there was a really, really cool demo that you shared that I...

I think we have to stop teasing people soon and dive into talking about.

Rachel Tipton: First I'll, I'll talk about our, our approach to open source and then the Open Quartz Solar Forecast itself. So the intention is to have as much of our code and data available to anyone who wants to work on decarbonizing the power grid or, I don't know, use the code for other as well.

Last year, we had some mentoring from someone who works in the open source space and they explained the concept of coding in the open versus being an open, like a thriving open source community. And right now we're in that space of transition of trying to offer a pro like a product or a tool, which would be the open source, Open Quartz Solar Forecast that people in the coding community can contribute to.

So I feel as though I started my coding career coding in the open. So someone can go to the, I think it's the Quartz front end repo on Open Climate Fix and see the code for our next JS app,

which is the Quartz solar app. But to actually run that app, you can see the API that we're using, but you'll have to like set up your own database to be able to use that.

So it's not readily runnable, I would say, but it's out there. So if somebody wants to take it template for their own application, they can use it. So I, what I've said is like the, the code for my career is out in the open, it's the good, the bad, the ugly. There's a lot of

commits where I'm just like fixing linting errors and that kind of thing. But it's also nice because then I can point to those repositories when I'm applying for other jobs, or people can see that I've contributed to 

an open source project and I personally love the community aspect of people collaborating on code. There's something really beautiful about that collaboration to me and that the community ownership of the code itself.

And so, the idea of Open Climate Fix is that we're providing code that other communities can use or creative people, smart coders who want to certainly implement like an ML model, we're showing them how to do that. Like if you want to implement a large deep learning model. Yes, an individual might not necessarily have the, the data infrastructure to do that, but they can see how we're doing it. And we're giving them those tools. Could be something interesting to add, the energy sector was like one of the first sectors to digitize, I think like in the 70s and 80s. And so some of it's like digital infrastructure is a little bit dated, let's say. Like the

images that you saw of like the control room.

It looks like older digital infrastructure. And so there's this other element to the, like, intention behind Open Climate Fix's work, which is to provide like an upgrade to that digitization for the energy sector. I don't know if that's clear, if that makes sense, but that's one... 

Chris Adams: That does make sense. Cause we did an interview with some folks from Electricity Maps and they, they provide like universal APIs across bunches of countries. And some of the things they had to do, I think when I was speaking to Tony Van Sweet, who were telling me about it, I think it's in Singapore.

They need to, because they can't get actual data. They need to basically use optical character recognition on a image that gets updated every five minutes to pull a data point out. Because you just have a system that was designed a certain way and that's how it's been like that for however long. So yeah, I totally understand where you're coming from with that.

Okay. So we spoke a little bit about this and you spoke a little bit about working in the open and about how there's a difference between coding in the open and having like an actual open source project that kind of gets people involved and things like that. I figured, can we talk about the demo now and some of the things you shared at FOSDEM because that was super cool.

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. I ran in this morning to see like what the, if I had like a solar panel at my house, like what the solar generation would be. So what we presented is it's called Open Quartz Solar Forecast, and we have a repo for it on the Open Climate Fix GitHub account. And basically what it is, it's a, it's a solar forecast that is site specific. So if you have a latitude and longitude coordinate, you basically plug that in to the, the model itself, it's a Python package. So you install the package and then you run the function. I think it's like run forecast and you put in your, the lat long coordinates for your site, as well as a timestamps, which will be like

the initializing null of the forecast, Like right now. And then. It generates a forecast, we call it the 15 minute forecast resolution. So you'll have data every 15 minutes out for 48 hours for your solar forecast in a specific location.

Chris Adams: So when you were presenting this, so you mean you're, you're speaking to me from Belgium and you presented this in Brussels, but the national grid is based in the UK. So the, the coverage for this is, it's not just one country. It's, could you maybe talk a little bit about that? Cause that was the thing that really surprised me.

This is why I didn't realize it was possible, actually.

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. So to explain a little bit about the site specific forecast, it was initially developed by using, we had like a thousand different sites around the UK that the model has been trained on. And the idea is that it takes in numeric weather predictions, like those are the inputs, is the actual local PV data, and then also numeric weather predictions. And it'll create a solar generation prediction for that specific site. For like the machine learning nerds, the actual model itself is a gradient boosted tree, which is like a bunch of decision trees making decisions together. That's the extent of my talking about the model itself. It's been trained on UK data, but it can be applied then to any other like, lat long coordinate in the world.

Chris Adams: Yeah This was the thing that was really cause I think you were presenting with, I think it was Zach, Zach Watts, who,

wow, his hair is way longer than his profile photo when I saw him in person I was like, oh wow, so I can use this in Germany, or you can use this in India, you can use it somewhere else.

That was like super exciting for me because the idea that you could just run that on your own laptop to do that was, yeah, pretty freaking cool when I first came across that actually.

Rachel Tipton: And I like to see it as like a distillation of our, the technology and the research that's gone into developing a... like a solar forecast nationally in the UK down to specific sites that might be like a solar farm or like maybe an energy trader wants to have information on a specific site. And then that gets like crystallized down to four lines of code for someone that wants to generate a solar forecast for their home or any other like location. In the world, and it can be interesting because you might actually like run the forecast in a location to see if it would be useful to have solar panels there. For example, that could be a use case that you use.

Chris Adams: And there was one thing that I found quite interesting, is that we've got this whole shift to basically renewable energies. That's the kind of generational as it were. And we've also seen that I believe in various areas, like say subcontinental Africa, or even India, you're seeing an uptick in people adopting new forms of power, basically, or solar, for example.

And this feels like this is something that you could see these tools being applied in new other areas, which where there's, where you're seeing new sources of demand, new sources of load that needs to be served, for example. And like, essentially that you've got something a bit like a kind of, leapfrogging effect, like you mentioned before, like, okay, there's antiquated technology, but theoretically say in, I know India is actually one country where that you folks have been doing some work already, and there's a bunch of really interesting work using even just like kind of grid modeling tooling to actually see how you can get, get off fossil fuels.

This feels like some, it's almost like a kind of leapfrogging at that level over there. You've got the same access to, to these tools in other parts of the world as well now.

Rachel Tipton: And I think it's important to offer a tool that's easily usable and easily accessible, and then it could also be like connected to other sources of like, what are called, it's called numeric weather prediction. So it's not as accurate as our, like national solar forecast, which uses satellite imagery, but it is fairly accurate.

And I think in most cases, in many cases, it's like something is better than nothing. Balancing a power grid. It's good to have like a super, super accurate solar forecast, but having something that would give you an idea of like how much solar generation you would have in any location in the world is really useful.

Chris Adams: Okay, cool. Thank you for that. So you've explained this, so a Solar Quartz open source. We've got a link to that and we'll add it into the show now. So people who are curious or want to try running their four lines of code wherever they're in the world, just to kind of get their, their own forecast, they can do that.

If anyone has really enjoyed the episode we did about Wasm, there's an issue to see if there's a way to turn some of this into Wasm as well, because there's a bunch of Python and there's a bit of like using C++ inside it. But if you do know Wasm, there is an issue open that I opened because I figured, "well, browsers can do this.

So why not just make browsers able to do kind of solar forecasts?" So maybe that might be of interest to other people. So we spoke about this part here, and this is a chunk of this is talking about reducing the amount of spinning reserves you need to have. Like we're just going back to just some of the grid stuff and like back to this whole idea of like carbon aware.

The thing that you told me was that can most of these tools reduce the amount of spinning reserves that you might need for this. And that means that that's, you're kind of reducing the amount of generation you might need to meet demand. All right. Now that's, as I understand it, one of the key ideas around carbon-aware programming is, as you said, it's attacking the problem from the other side.

So rather than actually balancing out supply and demand by just creating new generation from fossil sources, there's this idea that you could, you know, balance this out by reducing the amount of demand you have as well. And I understand that this is not a new concept inside grids. Like people have been doing stuff like this for a while already.

And as someone who's has basically switched into technology and then also working with the grid, there's a bunch of things which are quite counterintuitive. So the question I have for you is that when you're thinking about like grid responsiveness and flexibility, are there any kind of rules of thumb or things you found counterintuitive that you might want to share with other people to kind of help them think about this, honestly, quite new and quite a bit of a complicated concept to kind of internalize?

Rachel Tipton: So something that was complicated for me to understand in all of these discussions is that we're talking about decarbonizing the grid, but there's not a lot of discussion around like minimizing consumption that's something to be aware of is that when we're talking about decarbonizing the grid, we are not necessarily talking about using less electricity or using less energy in general.

So that was something that was not necessarily hard to wrap my mind around, but I think it's an important point to just put out there because a lot of the conversations are around more developing grid technologies where we can connect more renewables, but that we would still be able to consume as much energy as we do, for example.

But in terms of like, what is it, carbon aware programming, I think that it's the way that I thought about this that was useful for me is that I have the use case of balancing a power grid and using a solar forecast to make those grid balancing decisions. And then for an individual or on like a smaller scale, if somebody has what are called flexible assets at their house, so they might have like a battery or a solar panel, they might have like a tiny wind turbine or something that's generating electricity, having a solar forecast in that setting is a little bit different than having it making decisions on the power grid, but it's still sort of a decision making and energy balancing tool that you might be using in your home. Not sure if that answers your question.

Chris Adams: That does help, I mean, because basically we're still trying to figure out a lot of the wording for this stuff. And we do, we know there's a shift from essentially having a grid, which is basically responding to load. You can have a grid, which basically always meets any demand by just creating more generation.

And there's this idea that now you could shift the use of power from certain places to where to a certain time. So like you mentioned for yourself, if you've got something like say, local generation of say renewable energy, for example, if you're able to store some of that, then being able to run off some, some of that, instead of having to draw from the grid later on at times of high carbon intensity, that counts as a climate win, for example.

And I think these are the things that we don't really have ways to really talk about yet. Or there are some papers exploring some of these ideas, but they're not particularly in the mainstream yet, I suppose. So I think this is something that we are trying to struggle with. And also when you see it coming from a number of large organizations, it does give this impression that, It can kind of almost allow people to not talk about absolute amounts of load.

And when we have seen massive new amounts of load coming onto the grid, especially with data centers, and we're seeing extremely aggressive projections and total energy use. You can see why people would be skeptical about some of these ideas, but I kind of feel that we're aware that this is happening outside of technology, that the idea of responsiveness to the grid is something that happens outside of technology as well, and has been going for a while.

And it's not like a totally new concept, basically.

Rachel Tipton: I think I have two things that I'd like to add to that. One is the idea that like, so there's certain technologies that will inform a user when renewable energy is on the grid. And so some people are using the grid in those moments when there is renewable energy, and I think that there is the potential for individuals to create change, not by just having flexible assets at home, but by saying, I'm going to demand energy and use energy when it's renewable on the grid, and then the grid operators and the energy ecosystem itself, I would hope would then respond by providing more renewables on the grid. I'm talking in vagaries, I feel like in generalities, but that would be one way to shift the, the type of electricity mix, I guess, as you call it on the grid. But then also from the other side that people, I think it's really important that people are aware that our electricity infrastructure is going to have to handle a lot more electricity, whether that's going to be like server centers, like computers in different places, but also like EVs, everything, if we're going to electrify everything, we're actually going to be using much more electrical energy in the future because it's going to be replacing those

Chris Adams: Yeah. Fossil fuel energy. Yeah. heat pumps instead of burning in a furnace, for example. Yeah.

This is one thing that I kind of like, just, I realized recently, actually, is now that lots of places which are taking on, for example, in Germany, right. We see a load of heat pumps being rolled out, especially, I believe you're seeing this in France and Belgium.

And these are places where we don't normally have aircon, right? And if you're listening in a place which uses aircon, the idea that like we've never really used aircon is kind of mind blowing. And now there's going to be a bunch of us with heaters, which can also cool things down. And like, like you mentioned, there will be a whole load of new energy being used because this is the only way that you can provide heat or cooling without actually having to burn fossil fuels.

So we are going to seeing a bunch of this. All right. We've totally gone down a bit of 

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. Gone down a deep rabbit hole that we don't have time to elaborate,

Chris Adams: So I'm going to park that, but I'll share a couple of links. So we're just coming up to time and I just wanted to provide a bit of space to let you talk about like what, what's catching your eye that you would like to draw people's attention to.

So normally we talk about open source projects or maybe a magazine or a video or anything like that. Yeah. If there's anything that you would point people to who might have found this conversation interesting, what would you like direct people's attention to? Because yeah, now's your time, basically.

Rachel Tipton: So off the back of this particular conversation, there's a book called Real Decarbonization by Tisha Schuller, and it talks about how the energy transition is going to involve oil companies, Shell, BP, these large entities. And I feel like if people are involved in the energy transition, it's a really useful book to read, even though you might not agree with everything that she's saying and everything that she's talking about. One of the, the projects that has caught my attention lately, that's more, it's my artistic side. It came from an article in the MIT technology review called recapturing the whimsy of the early internet. And it's a movement called the HTML energy movement. I don't know if you've talked about it before on...

Chris Adams: Never heard of this. Wow.

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. So it's people who are making these HTML energy sites and they say, basically, they're celebrating the rudimentary character of HTML as a language, which I know a lot of people don't necessarily consider HTML to be a programming language, but they are pitching themselves as hidden gardens on the internet.

So I've listed a couple of links to those websites that are very, very relevant. Very minimalist in some sense, but sort of artistic places to poke around and see what is being offered. So there's one called HTML garden and then terrarium of many sceneries from the MIT technology review, which I find to be a good source of information about tech that I wouldn't necessarily be exposed to at my workplace.

Chris Adams: Okay, cool. So that was htmls.garden and sceneries.site. These are two examples of this kind of HTML garden or HTML energy sites. I'd never heard of that at all. Wow. Cool.

All right then.

Rachel Tipton: Might be a bit off topic, but they're kind of fun to explore.

Chris Adams: All right. Thank you for that. Okay. So if people have enjoyed this conversation and they want to follow on some of the work that you have, where should people look? I mean, Rachel L'Abri Tipton is a relatively strong name for Google, right? It's not like Chris Adams or, you know, John Smith, for example. So should we just be looking for Rachel L'Abri Tipton on LinkedIn or GitHub or where, where would you direct people to?

Rachel Tipton: Yeah, so I have my LinkedIn is Rachel L'Abri Tipton, GitHub is also Rachel L'Abri Tipton, and then I have a sub stack that I write, which is the Tech Generalist. So you can also find me there and I've provided just my Linktree for the podcast notes. So all of those links are in the Linktree.

Link tree Yeah. And then also wanted to just pitch a small pitch for myself. My contract with Open Climate Fix is ending at the end of April. So I'm open to new opportunities currently, whether that's in the energy space or other places, or just collaborating on projects. So if people want to reach out, I'm more than happy to talk full stack developer opportunities.

Chris Adams: All right. Brilliant. Well, Rachel, thank you very much for your time and explaining some of the inner workings of how. Basically grids work at a national level and yeah, I hope your basement gets sorted out with the flooding and...

Rachel Tipton: I hope so as well. 

Chris Adams: Yeah. And have a lovely week. All right. This has been fun, Rachel.

Thank you.

Rachel Tipton: Yeah. Really fun. Thanks, Chris.

Chris Adams: Hey everyone. Thanks for listening. Just a reminder to follow Environment Variables on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. And please do leave a rating and review if you like what we're doing. It helps other people discover the show, and of course we'd love to have more listeners.

To find out more about the Green Software Foundation, please visit greensoftware.foundation. That's greensoftware.foundation in any browser. Thanks again and see you in the next episode.