Types of Federates

A “federate”, as previously introduced in the HELICS Key Concepts section, is a specific instance of simulation executable. For example, a federation may contain a bunch of electric vehicles (EVs), each with their own charge controller implemented as a stand-alone federate (maybe the co-simulation designer is trying out a fancy new coordination algorithm); we’ll call this code EV_coordinator_v12.exe. The code that does this charge coordination is generic in the sense that it can be used to charge any of these EVs; it works with all makes and models. But to run the co-simulation, each EV will have to have its own running instance of this code that controls the charging of a particular vehicle. If the co-simulation is testing this algorithm with five EVs, then there would be five federates each running their own version of EV_coordinator_v12.exe which presumably have unique information particular to each individual EV (battery size, maximum charging rate, etc).

(And, to be clear, a “simulator” is the executable itself. A simulator can never be a part of a co-simulation; as soon as one particular instance of that simulator begins running in a co-simulation it is considered a “federate”.)

HELICS defines three specific types of federates defined by the nature of the messages they are passing to and from the federation:

  1. Value federates - Value federates are used when the federate is simulating the physics of a system. The data in the messages they send and receive are indicating new values at the boundary of the federates system under simulation. Taking the example from the our high-level overview of the process of HELICS co-simulation execution, the transmission and distribution system were value federates; they each supplied messages that updates the other’s boundary condition. Value federates typically will update at very regular intervals based on the fidelity of their models and/or the resolution of any supporting data they are using; this likely is related to the time-step of the federate.

    Value federates interact with the federation through what are called “interfaces”. There are a handful of different interface types which will be discussed shortly but all are intended to provide the same essential functionality: allowing values in HELICS messages to be sent from and received by a given federate. For value federates, these messages will often have one-to-one correspondence to internal variables within the federate. Using the previous simple transmission and distribution example , the distribution system may send out a HELICS message that contains the value of its internal positive sequence load variable and receive HELICS messages that it uses for its internal positive sequence substation voltage variable.

  1. Message federates - Message federates are used when the HELICS messages being passed to and from the simulation are generic packets of information, often for control purposes. Though these values may be physical measurements, they are treated as data to be used by an algorithm, processor, or controller. If the inputs to the federate can be thought of traveling over a communication network of some kind, it is probably coming from and/or going to a message federate. For example, in the power system world phasor measurement units (PMUs) have been installed throughout the power system and the measurements they make are collected through a communication system.

    Message federates interact with the federation through a conceptually different mechanism than a value federate. If message federates can be thought of as attaching to communication networks, the federate’s “endpoints” are the specific interfaces to that communication network. By default, HELICS acts as the communication network, transferring signals between message federates from the endpoint on one to the endpoint on another.

  1. Combination federates - As you might guess, this type of federate makes use of both the value method and the endpoint method for transferring data between federates. An example of a federate like this could be a transmission system simulator that is acting both as a physical model of a system as well as a collection of PMUs that are sending data to a centralized generator dispatcher. The solution to the powerflow could be used to define substation voltages to some attached distribution circuits (physical values sent via publication) and the generator output powers could be sent to the centralized controller (control/measurement values being sent over a communication network via endpoints in a message federate).