On the eve of Smart Grid week at talk standards, this post first outlines the meaning of Smart Grids and then explores the implications for standardization along with some outstanding questions for discussion. We discuss why Smart Grid standardization is different
What is a Smart Grid?
What is a Smart Grid? How should it look like? Well, the answer depends on who you ask.
There is a general consensus that:
- The Smart Grid should be ‘smart’, i.e. should have intelligence in the network.
- The Smart Grid will bring at least three industries together – existing power utilities, telecoms, IT. It will also provide a boost to a fourth industry segment (home networking).
Thus, in the context of Smart Grids, the ‘network’ now spans the Power network, Telecoms network and the home network with a new set of applications being built by the services industry. This is a challenge no doubt.
On the Supply side, the Smart grid will be / will imply:
- Smart Grids are more than conventional utilities since we will move away from predictable billing to dynamic pricing
- Smart grids imply lower operational costs
- Smart Grids would imply faster equipment renewal cycles
- New competitors will enter the space from outside the ecosystem(ex Internet players)
- Smart Grids will provide better analytics
For Governments, the Smart Grid will be:
- A new ecosystem an opportunity for competitive positioning of their respective economies globally
- A chance to be potentially involved in Standards
- A chance to manage security threats
- Customers don’t know about Smart Grids but they do care about them
- Customers want lower bills
- They want to be in control of bills
- They may be producers of energy in future
Smart grid technology could span
- Power grids
- Networks – including fixed and mobile networks
- Home networks
- In car networks
Society could be impacted by
- Promotion of Green issues/ Green issues
- Privacy concerns arising from Smart Grid deployment
How would Smart Grid look like from a services perspective?
- Smart Grids could proactively detect problems before they arise
- Smart Grids could mirror production of energy against consumption of energy by balancing supply and demand
- Sensor measurements inside network would enable rapid management and diagnostics
- Consumers could become producers
- Consumers could become traders by buying and selling energy perhaps to the Grid
- Smart Grids would enable better management of demand(low blackout probability)
- Smart Grids would allow us to intelligently manage home devices
- Smart Grids would lead to Self healing networks
- The ‘meter reading man’ would be a thing of the past
- Smart Grid would connect diverse generation mechanisms
- Electric cars could become more popular
- Smart Grids would help advanced sensing of issues and remote diagnostics of problems
- Smart Grids would lead to better decision support through trend analysis of data
- Smart Grids would imply a Bi-directional flow of energy
- Smart Grids would motivating for customers(would encourage customers to change their energy consumption , behavior and usage patterns)
- Smart Grids would enable innovation and ‘Edge of network’ services through a start-up culture for fostering new innovation.’
Smart Grid Standards
Smart Grid standardization is complex. Purely because Smart Grids bring three domains together: IT, energy and telecoms. Each has existing value chains and standardization along with different industry cycles.
The task is as complex as putting a person on the moon but with the added dimension of requiring collaboration not just by one but by several industries. Standards are designed to achieve interoperability. Interoperability for smart grids can be viewed at three levels: the device level, network level and services level. Device level interoperability is relatively easy, but interoperability on the other two levels is much more complex. Standards are important but they are not sufficient for Smart Grids, since Smart Grids span domains. Formal standardization process has limitations because standardization aims for consensus through compromises. Standards provide a measure of stability but they need to be augmented by user groups. Hence, Standards Need User Groups to create implementation agreements by reducing the number of options. This strategy has worked well in other domains like WiFi through groups like the WiFi alliance.
Why Smart Grid standardization is different?
Smart Grid standardization is different from other standards approaches for the same reason of its complexity. Smart Grids have complex functional requirements and since they span domains, there is potentially an additional step which is involved in collecting all these functional requirements. This additional step is not seen in other domain specific standard initiatives.
To achieve this goal, NIST set up the Smart Grid Interoperability Standards Project. SGIP is an independent requirements gathering organization created by NIST but independent of NIST. Once requirements have been identified, they are expected to be passed to existing Standards Development Organizations (SDOs). This approach has some advantages since requirements are gathered from across the affected industries independent of technology and then standardized by different SDOs. In Oct 2010, NIST identified five “foundational” sets of standards for Smart Grid interoperability and cyber security that are ready for consideration by federal and state energy regulators.
The standards and their functions are:
- IEC 61970 and IEC 61968: Providing a Common Information Model (CIM) necessary for exchanges of data between devices and networks, primarily in the transmission (IEC 61970) and distribution (IEC 61968) domains
- IEC 61850: Facilitating substation automation and communication as well as interoperability through a common data format.
- IEC 60870-6: Facilitating exchanges of information between control centers.
- IEC 62351: Addressing the cyber security of the communication protocols defined by the preceding IEC standards.
Conclusion and Questions
We cannot attempt to solve twenty first century problems with twentieth century processes. Smart Grids are a bold attempt to create new infrastructure and thus new value for customers, enterprises, innovators and Governments. It brings together previously discrete industries – specifically electricity generation, Telecoms and the Internet. It creates new collaborators and competitors.
But if we build it, will they come? And how do we decide what to build? While Smart grids are new, networks are not. As networks evolve, they shift innovation to the edge. The edge of the smart grid is the home network, the automotive network. All these are driven by customers. So, the goal should be to empower customers and not hinder innovation.
In terms of standardization, the approach of gathering functional requirements through a separate body like SGIP is unique. The only analogies perhaps are in Japan with government led bodies like MITI taking an active role in standardization. Will this be a new trend for cross domain services? Certainly technologies like NFC (Near field communication) have been mired because they span two domains (transportation and telecoms).
But much remains to be seen. The five foundational standards initially identified by NIST include mostly device and network layer standards. My personal view is that it is good if we can standardize those layers. Conceptually, that is like standardizing the IP and http protocols. I think the efforts of bodies like NIST should be focused at that layer. This will allow industry to focus on the application and service layers and bring in new innovation.
At this point, we can only say that we are exploring uncharted waters and smart grid standardization is different from what we have seen before.