A Better System

Engineers are working on a more efficient energy grid.
By Alejandro de la Garza, adapted by TIME for Kids editors
As seen on
Power lines against an orange and blue sky
High-voltage power wires stand tall against the sky. Engineers are working to build a cleaner and more efficient energy system.

Shuli Goodman talks a lot about building the next generation of clean energy. But she doesn’t just mean building solar panels and wind turbines. As the director of Linux Foundation Energy (LF Energy), she’s interested in something else: open-source software. She says it will be essential to moving the world away from fossil fuels and cutting carbon-dioxide emissions. 

Today, much of our power system runs on a hundred-year-old model. Centralized power plants, often running on fossil fuels, produce a constant stream of energy. The energy is pushed out along a grid. This approach creates a lot of wasted electricity. That’s because it’s difficult to match the amount of electricity being produced at power plants with demand from homes and businesses.

A new, cleaner system would run on renewable energy. It would use software to automatically balance energy flows from wind and solar plants and other sources. Such a network would take advantage of modern computers and sensors. It could work much more efficiently. And it could lower carbon-dioxide emissions.

The Goal

LF Energy is trying to create software that would allow all the different pieces of a new electrical system to work together. Such a system, Goodman says, will allow us to do more with fewer solar panels and wind turbines, and to build an advanced grid much faster. “If you really want to be able to go fast,” Goodman says, “you have to take the time to make sure that you’ve got a foundation that’s under you.”

LF Energy is coordinating thousands of engineers around the world to build the pieces of that foundation. The software they’re building is open-source. This means that anyone can use or modify it. Utilities and big-tech companies—Microsoft, for example—contribute some of the work on LF Energy’s software. Other efforts come from volunteers.

Goodman told TIME that our current energy system has very few efficiency controls. A new system using open-source software could lead to “radical energy efficiency, where we’re maximizing every electron and continuing to provide the same results,” she says. “I think it’s going to be fantastic for society. We don’t realize how much we’re wasting.”

This story was originally published in TIME on March 30, 2022.

Think About It

It will take many people working at many different jobs to realize LF Energy’s goal of a more efficient energy system. Based on your skills and interests, what role would you like to play in this initiative?