Interoperable: More Than Just Communications

By Wes Sylvester, Siemens

Common Information Model (CIM) 61850, 61970 and DNP3i may be what most utility industry people imagine when they think of interoperable communications.

Communications is a huge piece in the utility of the future. As we contemplate interoperability, however, many utilities are quickly realizing this means more than making sure all of their relays speak to each other efficiently.

Communication Interoperable

There is increasing urgency in the market to make the entire grid more interoperable. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the standards organizations of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) have efforts afoot to move CIM and 61850 outside the substation and onto the feeder. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are working toward smart grid communications standards. Often these standards take time to develop and refine. At various meetings on this issue, the resounding message is “speed, speed, speed.”

As our technology continues to move faster, we need protocols and systems to do the same. We also require standards for developing these technologies. The more involvement from utilities that eventually will be affected by standards, the more likely the industry will meet those needs. Anyone (manufacturer and utility alike) who thinks he will be affected by these standards, directly or indirectly, should get involved with these committees and help them shape our industry.

As we evolve into a smarter, greener grid, many other interoperability issues surface. The overall intent of changing our system is to take a step forward in many areas: reliability, efficiency, reducing our carbon footprints or informing consumers. As we make critical strides–and we’ve made many already–the new issues that emerge push the boundaries of our organizations, from a planning and operations perspective as well as a structure perspective. An emergence of two additional interoperables is happening in the utility world.

Renewable Interoperable

When utilities decide to reduce their carbon footprints and greenhouse gases, many times they turn to wind turbines as the de facto solution. As a major supplier of turbines, Siemens is directly involved in the supply to the grid. Interesting challenges lie in linking these wind farms to our current grid. Enter renewable interoperable.

It is becoming critical for utilities to work with vendors who understand the entire energy-delivery value chain to ensure they make the best decisions when bringing wind into their portfolios. Effectively using energy-storage devices such as NaS batteries or compressed air and electricity provided by renewables requires a team that can understand generation and transmission–and even more so today–distribution. The key may be to develop these competencies, or work with those who have them. Integration can be one of the most challenging aspects of a new game-changing technology or service, but organizations that can integrate well are in strong positions to succeed with future grid improvements. A great example is a 48-turbine, offshore wind farm Siemens installed for Vattenfall. Grid studies prior to installation revealed the need for Siemens to design a special transformer substation on an offshore platform and connect it to the grid via an undersea cable. These new solutions for integrating renewables will continue to drive the renewable interoperable concept. This concept leads to the next, and possibly most challenging, emerging need: organization interoperability.

Organization Interoperable

When many utilities look at their organizational structure, they see a well-oiled machine that has functioned well even in challenging times. With strong pillars of generation, transmission, distribution and metering, utilities have a deep knowledge base within each specialty. Efficiencies and reliability gains can be seen in data from the meter data management system and the distribution and transmission management systems to more quickly and effectively locate outages. Information from usage data can interact with substation control centers to facilitate load balancing. The wind farm from the example above can be tapped to respond to peak air conditioning loads in the heat of the summer.

Utilities have countless examples emerging where these silos of old are requiring the addition of modern barns with windows to see each other, and many times new hallways to connect one another. It is exciting to see how many utilities are starting to bring together cross-functional teams with members from all of their teams to make these possibilities real. Southern California Edison is an excellent example, with a cross-cutting team growing as this magazine goes to press. Duke Energy has created its Utility of the Future organization, which also takes a view of the whole utility, integrating intelligence with customer interaction and more. Regardless of the name, many smart grid efforts across utilities required cross-functional teams, and more utilities are recognizing it is better long term to keep this concept open and outside the silos.

Manufacturers are no different. Siemens, for example, made a strong preemptive step by combining its generation and T&D businesses under the same umbrella, Siemens Energy. Reducing the silos harnesses the horsepower and knowledge of the entire energy value chain, from turbine to meter, to help bring the best solutions to market for the benefit of utility customers and end customers.

As we look forward, utilities will meet another challenge: interoperability between utilities, from operations and organization perspectives. As the industry quickly adjusts to change, we should know that this new challenge will be handled with the fervor and dedication that has made U.S. electricity reliability the stronghold it is. Do your part: Participate in trade organizations and groups that help shape our combined futures, involve those who understand your energy delivery chain, and take early steps to make your organizations ready for change.

Sylvester is director, distribution solutions at Siemens Energy Inc. He is responsible for solution vision, direction, strategy, definition, design, sales and marketing for distribution products and services, with an emphasis on smart grid solutions. He also helps lead the cross-divisional smart grid team and is a company representative on both GridWise and EPRI’s Intelligrid, where he serves as chairman of the Intelligrid Technology Transfer Committee.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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