Electrical Business


Top 5 FAQs for smart grid interoperability

April 13, 2010 | By Anthony Capkun

With the fast-approaching “Smart Grid Interoperability Summit” taking place June 15-16 in Toronto, Ont. (of which EBMag is proud to serve as an Official Media Partner), it makes sense to answer a few Frequently Asked Questions about smart grid.

1. What is a ‘smart grid’?
If you visit 100 different websites, you’ll find 100 different
definitions of a smart grid. Since there is no globally-centralized
smart grid authority, we may never have a single definition—but that’s
not necessarily a bad thing! However, in analyzing many of the
definitions that are out there, you will find a couple of elements that
are common to almost all of them:

a two-way flow of information coupled with a two-way flow of power.

When you think about it, one of these two items are involved in every
application we talk about in smart grid: distributed generation,
demand-response, renewable integration, energy storage, consumer energy
management, smart appliances, advanced metering infrastructure,
substation automation, and so on. This may not be the actual definition
of a smart grid, but it’s pretty darn handy when trying to describe what
we are trying to achieve.


2. What does it mean for a grid device to be smart?
Every software vendor and power equipment supplier is currently touting
the smartness of their products but, clearly, they constitute varying
degrees of ‘smart’ depending on the kind of system you are considering.

To facilitate this discussion, the National Electrical Manufacturers
Association (NEMA) has published a relative scale of ‘smartness’ in a
white paper entitled “Standardizing the Classification of Intelligence
Levels and Performance of Electricity Supply Chains”. In this document,
NEMA has identified six different levels of intelligence as summarized
in the following table:

Level 0 – Manual Operation No observability, no controllability, no communications
Level 1 – Electronic Digital Communication Either one-way (status reporting) or two-way (status reporting plus
remote actuation) communications to a remote node is possible.
Level 2 – Self Actuation, Basic Automation This is the first level at which local, binary control is possible, as a
device is able to switch itself On or Off.
Level 3 – Self Optimization, Adaptive Behaviour Beyond simple self actuation, Level 3 devices or nodes are aware of some
desired operating state, and will pursue actions to adjust their
performance with respect to that state.
Level 4 – Collaboration This implies the notion of hierarchical operating states and introduces
networked intelligence between devices.
Level 5 – Prediction and Plan Development Beyond interoperability introduced by collaboration, some form of
automated analysis has to occur that identifies a future, desired
operating state to achieve Level 5 intelligence.

3. What is the role of IP networking in the grid?
Since much of the desired functionality and many of the applications
that we seek to enable in the smart grid are based on the need for
reliable communications, there is a definite role for IP networking as a
globally accepted and universally known communications protocol.


Naturally there are groups that believe IP should be the only
communications protocol used in the grid, just as there are groups that
believe it shouldn’t be allowed at all. Like it or not, IP is already in
the grid in as much as various AMI companies are building IP adapters
for smart meters, and IP networking is built into the C12 standards. For
devices that are capable of supporting the logical addressing schemes
that are characteristic of IP networking implementations, it will be a
viable alternative.

For devices that are only able to communicate at the physical and media
access control layers (Phy-MAC) and do not have the processing power or
memory to support a TCP/IP stack, it simply isn’t workable today.

4. What is the difference between the IEC and NIST approaches to smart

The IEC and NIST are two of the leading bodies promoting smart grid, and
each has produced its own roadmap. Both groups have gone to great
lengths to come up with a list of standards, and they share a number of
them in common.

In terms of approach, NIST and IEC have considered a slightly different
set of applications that will be enabled by smart grid. The NIST list of
applications includes demand-response and consumer energy efficiency,
wide-area situational awareness, energy storage, electric
transportation, advanced metering infrastructure, distribution grid
management, cyber security and network communications as the priority

The list of IEC applications includes high-voltage DC, blackout
prevention, distribution management and automation, substation
automation, distributed energy resources, advanced metering
infrastructure, demand-response, smart homes, electric storage and

While they both have differing governing organizations, a number of NIST
participants in the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) are also
members of the IEC Strategy Group 3 (SG3) for smart grid. Also, as a
stated objective, NIST has indicated it wants to consider international
standards “whenever practical” to fill the gaps in its smart grid
standardization strategy.

5. What does it mean for a standard to be ‘open’?
Openness is a term that is used in a variety of contexts and is almost
never applied consistently. For example, an open source application is
one whose source code is publicly shared so that any member of the
technical community can contribute to it. (The Linux operating system is
an example of an open-source application.) An open standard, however,
is one that is developed as part of a collaborative, industry process.

For example, any standard that is published by the Internet Engineering
Task Force (IETF) is posted on a website as a Request For Comment (RFC).
During that time, any interested party may contact the standard’s
author and question the content or make a recommendation. After a
thorough review period, when all questions and challenges to the
standard have been satisfied, it can be adopted by the IETF.

Other accredited standards bodies have very strict regulations that
govern the way groups develop standards by enforcing concepts such as
balance, lack of dominance, due process and consensus among the
standards writers. The output of this process, which implies broad
acceptance by the participants, is considered an open standard.

*     *     *

The Smart Grid Interoperability Summit is the only
interoperability-focused smart grid event in Canada, and will bring
together an international colloquium of government leaders, regulators,
standards associations, utilities executives and other industry
stakeholders to create an action-based blueprint for cross-border
interoperability success.

CLICK HERE to learn more.

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