New NIST smart grid framework released

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The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released an updated Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards.

The focus in this latest edition of the document is a push on interoperability, with the prospect of the smart grid becoming more of a plug-and-play ecosystem.

Interoperability remains underdeveloped, according to the authors, who say that despite the significant grid modernisation that has occurred, the proliferation of technology and associated standards has only modestly improved interoperability.

Moreover, the expansion of distributed energy resources and other technologies, along with changing customer expectations, have complicated the interoperability challenge.

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Interoperability is defined as “the capability of two or more networks, systems, devices, applications, or components to work together, and to exchange and readily use information – securely, effectively and with little or no inconvenience to the user.”

As such, the smart grid will be a system of interoperable systems, i.e. different systems that will be able to exchange meaningful, actionable information in support of the operation of the grid.

The document introduces evolving technology and power system architectures to update the Smart Grid Conceptual Model, determine the communication pathways and assess the interface requirements.

Interoperability is identified as a principal enabler of the new system control schemes necessary to manage the active participation of distributed resources in a decentralising system, all while empowering customers to provide solutions across numerous scales. This expands the interoperability concept beyond the traditional utility-centric focus of it as a mechanism to decrease system integration costs.

Interoperability also is key to the economics of the future grid as the changing customer capabilities with the growth of distributed resources alters the traditional economic dependencies and the role of the distribution utility.

The document also identifies cybersecurity as a key consideration, stating that interoperability requires a cybersecurity approach that manages risk while opening new communication interfaces. The desired outcomes for the grid and the information exchanges that must be protected will have to be considered in concert and will benefit from a structured approach to system security.

Interoperability profiles

Arguably the most novel concept of the new release is that of ‘Interoperability profiles’, which are proposed to extend the current industry focus on certifying conformance to individual standards.

Testing and certification is identified as a critical enabler of smart grid interoperability. Interoperability profiles would describe a subset of requirements that, when implemented and verified through testing and certification, would ensure interoperability across devices and systems.

“The reason Wi-Fi works on everybody’s phone and computer and everything else is because of an effective testing and certification programme,” said NIST smart grid programme manager Avi Gopstein, lead author of the framework.

“Specific performance requirements and validation tests have been established. For interoperability, we don’t have that.”

Rather than develop new standards, the interoperability profiles would bring together subsets of the existing standards for both physical function and communication suited to specific types of devices. With testing based on profiles, manufacturers would have explicit guidance on how to make their devices interoperable with the grid.

Over time, as products become certified, the grid would become more of a plug-and-play ecosystem, giving customers more options to choose from, says Gopstein.

The Release 4.0 of the NIST’s smart grid framework comes eleven years on from the release of the first version. As that was foundational for the development of the smart grid and standards in the US as well as elsewhere in the world, so too this new release is set to be equally influential.