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Transactive Energy for Microgrids

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Our CEO Kay Aikin wrote a guest blog for Microgrid Knowledge the premier industry newsletter focused on Microgrid technologies and policy.

MRRA Microgrid

MRRA Microgrid

Toward Market-based Microgrid Control Systems

The largest machine on earth is often said to be our electrical grid. By the end of 2016 there were some 7600 power plants greater than 1 MW with many times more, smaller resources and an even larger number of control systems. The grid is truly a complex machine that is made up of systems collected into ever larger systems.  In the controls world this is called a systems of systems. This is the ultimate in complexity and is true on all large systems like the electric grid and ecological systems.

The advantage of microgrids is they help us tame the complexity the grid by limiting the number of possible interactions within the grid. Smaller more predictable systems are less prone to unintended consequences as can happen in the electrical grid like the Northeast blackout of 2003. However, even with microgrids and the emergence of energy management systems and smart devices the control networks of a microgrid will become even more complex. But this complexity can be used to build better systems as Ecologist Eric Berlow says the more you “embrace complexity the better chance you have finding simple answers”. A great Ted talk illustrating this concept can be seen at:

It has been shown that market-based systems can be amazingly stable in complex environments because of the many naturally balancing feedback loops within the system. Using this complexity, to lead to simplicity. In the electrical engineering field, the GridWise Alliance has called this idea of market-based system “Transactive Energy”. Much of the research in this area has been done by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and one of the successful trials was the Olympia Peninsula Project (OPP) consisting of a field demonstration of price signal-based control of distributed energy resources. The demonstration showed that market-based control was able to manage distribution constraints and reduce peak loads. This was followed with the Pacific Northwest Demonstration Project (PNDP) ending in 2015.

You can consider there to be three main methods for implementing Transactive Energy control systems applicable to microgrids including:

  • Centralized (top down)
  • Centralized (auction-based)
  • Distributed (edge-based)

The difference between the Olympia Peninsula and Pacific Northwest Project was that OPP was a double auction very similar to the current ISO systems and PNDP was a top down model where demand response assets and distributed energy resources were optimally dispatched by individual “transactive” nodes using two-way communications. Both both were generally more centralized paradigms.

The third transactive approach is a fully distributed edge control method that relies on pricing signals reflecting the prediction of future conditions creating a different price at many different scales.  Lower-level devices (or entire systems) respond to those pricing signals from higher levels. This method is currently being researched at Maine’s Brunswick Landing Microgrid Project (add link) for the Department of Energy.

While the first two transactive energy approaches have shown promise in that they have been able to balance energy demand, lowering peak demand and managing grid congestion they rely on large two-way communication networks that are particularly vulnerable to cyber assaults.

This cyber vulnerability should be a concern for the microgrid community because for a wide spread deployment of a system of microgrids this communication vulnerability is of particular concern to today’s infrastructure experts.

The edge-based system being researched at Brunswick Landing has pricing signals (potential of 10 or more different grid scales) are continuously re-calculated, only travel in a downward direction and are acted upon only by edge devices have promise, using the “power of complexity to lead to simplicity” Since the scope of influence of a single node is typically only one or two degrees of separation as described by Eric Berlow, this limits the computing power required to calculate the system state and provides for enhanced capabilities using advanced artificial intelligence techniques and limits security risks with limited communications routes. An effective transactive edge-based energy system can provide increased resilience, versatility, reliability and flexibility when used not only in microgrids but the greater electrical grid.

Kay Aikin is CEO of Introspective Systems, a complex systems architecture and engineering company in Portland Maine. Introspective Systems is the project lead at the Brunswick Landing Microgrid Project researching edge-based transactive energy networks.

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E2Tech: Electrical Grid Futures

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Kay Aikin, Chief Executive Officer of Introspective Systems presented at the Environmental and Energy Technology Councils discussion on Electrical Grid Futures-Innovation in the Energy Sector. Kay described how the companies work at Brunswick Landing and how it is an ideal location for energy technology innovation. Brunswick Landing has its own power grid, including an anerobic digester generation facility that is providing electricity to the business park’s tenants. Introspective Systems is collaborating with Brunswick Landing, and Franklin Electric’s INCON division in Saco, Maine on an innovative microgrid solution to generate green, reliable power and mange it using real-time pricing mechanisms and artificial intelligent control algorithms. Further discussions included the role of enhanced software, traditional utilities, manufacturers, and renewable energy will have in the electricity sector of the future. And, how will innovation in the electricity sector help inform Maine’s energy, environmental, and economic Roadmap to the Future?

Brunswick Landing Electrical Grid

Brunswick Landing Microgrid System Map

Kay’s presentation can be accessed here.

The other presentations at the event  can be accessed at the following link:

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Department of Energy Phase II SBIR: Fractal Grid Framework for an Evolving Grid Architecture

Press Brief:

On Tuesday, June 20th, 2017 Introspective Systems LLC. was awarded a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research project “Fractal Graph Framework for an Evolving Grid Architecture” for grid$986,802. Using Brunswick Landings Renewable Energy Center 4 MW Microgrid as a test-bed the project further develops the grid architecture and control algorithms for a new grid management technology based on edge intelligence.

The objective of this phase is to confirm the dynamic stability of managing a microgrid (a small self contained energy system with demand, supply and control) using highly granular real-time pricing signals balancing demand and supply while keeping system engineering requirements within acceptable tolerances. The technology developed ­­­uses market-based economic principals and artificial intelligence within Introspective Systems patented xGraph micro-services edge computer architecture that was specially modified for the grid application.

The AI algorithms in gateways distributed throughout the Brunswick Landing microgrid develop a well-defined set of buy/sell pricing signals and transmit those signals to edge devices in the level below. The edge devices use locally and temporally learned intelligent algorithms to control their own operations deciding on when it is most advantageous to consume or supply power to the greater grid. The system control is thus distributed to the very edge of the electrical grid rather than current control schemes that rely on top-down approaches that are computationally inefficient and have potential cyber-security risks. The overall control concept is called “grid edge intelligence”.

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Earthquake software presented

AGU15-logoIntrospective Systems earthquake location software was presented at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) convention in San Francisco between December 14-18 and made quite a buzz with participants. Sandia National labs, Berkeley University and Air Force Tactical Applications Command (AFTAC) have spent 7 years and millions of dollars in attempts to creat a real-time bayesian approach to locating earthquakes. They each spent more than 2 hours each studying the research and the real-time earthquake display being presented.

About the Software

Legacy processing approaches to seismic networks are based upon algorithms developed in thGlobee last century. Introspective Systems has developed new approaches that bring seismic Networks into the 21st century using all of the capabilities of modern computers for unprecedented analysis and monitoring of seismic events. Introspective Systems network capabilities are based upon xGraph a highly dynamic executable graph framework that distributes the analytics across millions of processes or processors.

The job of an earthquake data associator is to gather an ensemble of data types such as phase picks, beams, or other data from social media into another ensemble of collections identified as discrete events, each representing the occurrence of an earthquake, quarry blast, or nuclear detonation. Legacy approaches to the automation of this process have traditionally been procedural in nature, and more recently combinatorial as in some of the applications of Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) in this problem domain. A similar approach, as a dense, global network of association nodes, has been in use at the International Data Center (IDC) of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty Organization since its inception in the late 1990s.

Introspective Systems Seismic Networks implementation is radically different from those in use by other seismic observatories. The xGraph framework provides a real-time, in tempo approach that streamlines acquisition and analysis without batching of picks or other data. The algorithm is neither procedural nor is it combinatorial as with MCMC based approaches, for example. Instead it is draws from complexity theory where a catalog is created as a guided, self-organized criticality, designed for a cloud-based environment. Figuratively speaking with respect to the common “sand pile” metaphor, the grains of sand are the swarm of arriving picks and other data, and the emergent sand pile is an earthquake catalog where the binding energy is represented as the Bayesian affinity between picks and quakes.

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xGraph mentioned in Microsoft podcast

Introspective Systems and xGraph was mentioned in a national podcast Dotnetrocks which focuses on Microsoft .net products. The show focused on dotnetrocksMicrosoft Executive Vice President Jason Zander of the Azure Big Data Platform. The host Carl Franklin understands the benefits of xGraph in the Internet of Things business space that is diametrically opposed to Microsoft’s approach. There were some very interesting discussions about the relative value of keeping the intelligence in the cloud as Microsoft does or  embed intelligence at the edge like xGraph does.

Our section starts at 2:45 and goes to 5:00

Show synopsis: How can Azure change your business? Carl and Richard talk to Jason Zander, one of the original developers of .NET and now a corporate vice president, about the power of Azure to affect change in your business. Jason talks about the landscape of Azure today, and how the engineers are able to push out a feature almost every week – 500 new features in the past year! You may not need to move that fast, but it’s nice to know if you build against Azure, that’s what is possible. The conversation ranges over the role of IoT, security, web sites and more – there’s a lot of things that can be built in Azure, and the opportunities are massive!

Jason Zander is the Corporate Vice President of the Microsoft Azure Team in the Cloud & Enterprise group at Microsoft Corporation. Jason’s team responsibilities include the architecture and development of core Azure technologies (such as compute, storage, networking, public cloud data centers and engineering systems). Jason also leads development of the Azure IoT effort at Microsoft.

Before joining the Azure team, Jason was CVP of engineering for the Visual Studio team and has worked on numerous products at Microsoft including the first several releases of the CLR and .NET Framework, SourceSafe, and ODBC. Before joining Microsoft in 1992, Jason worked at IBM on Distributed SQL and SQL/400 at the Rochester lab. Jason holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from MSU.

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Rise of the Rest

Kay Aikin Chief Executive Officer of Introspective Systems was one of 8 companies selected to pitch their start-up at the Rise of the Rest Pitch Competition when they stop in Portland, Maine on October 2, 2015. Rise of the Rest is the brain child of Steve Case the founder of America Online. It purpose is to give deserving start-up in cities outside of the Boston, New York or Silicon Valley eco-systems.

Rise of the Rest 4.0 Pitch Competition Finalists Announced


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Contract Signed with USGS


In early July Introspective Systems signed a 2 year contract to redesign the National Earthquake Information Center’s (NEIC) earthquake location system. It will use a new big data statistical method using the xGraph platform. The proposed implementation under development is based upon earlier work by our Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Caryl Johnson but is a radical improvement on the state of Art. NEIC is looking for new methods that can associate diverse earthquake data including phase picks, beams data, social data among others.

The proposed implementation is radically different from those in use by other seismic observatories. The xGraph framework provides a real-time, in tempo approach that streamlines the acquisition and analysis without batching of picks  or other data. The system under developments neither procedural nor combinatoral as Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) legacy approaches. The development utilizes new advances in Complex Adaptive System (CAS) and applies new ideas in complexity theory.

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Introspective Systems Named a Semifinalist for LaunchPad

Information management software company one of 12 chosen for next round in Gorham Savings Bank’s annual business competition for $30,000

PORTLAND, ME – March 18, 2014 – Introspective Systems, the developer of the SIMplexity™ suite of architectural software products for early design, announces that it is one of the 12 semifinalists for the annual LaunchPad business competition. Founded by Gorham Savings Bank, LaunchPad awards $30,000 to help bring a business idea to life. Voting begins today online at

Online voting starts today and concludes on March 27 to select five top finalists, who then will have the opportunity to pitch their idea at the live LaunchPad Competition on April 10th. A panel of judges will award $30,000 to the winner. In addition, Maine Technology Institute (MTI) and Blackstone Accelerates Growth (BxG) will present a Technology Award of $5,000 to one of the 12 LaunchPad semifinalists that shows the best use of technological innovation as the basis for creating a new business in Maine.

“We are thrilled that our SIMplexity software is among the top candidates for this opportunity in our very first year of entering,” says Kay Aikin, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, Introspective Systems. “We thank Gorham Savings Bank for sponsoring LaunchPad, and congratulate all of our Maine business peers who are in the running. Our goal is to build a market-leading company that brings prestige and good jobs to the State of Maine.”