At the inaugural meeting of the SGIP John McDonald, Director of Technical Strategy and Policy Development at GE Energy and Chair of Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) made a strong case for why interoperability is even more important now than it was in 2009 when NIST initiated SGIP. Back in those days vendors like GE were selling products and interoperability was to a large extent the customer's problem. Since then there has been a "solution revolution" at GE where GE now focuses on understanding the customer's business problem and then builds a solution by integrating components from across GE's many divisions and product groups to solve the problem. But after doing this, they quickly realized just how critical all these components working together was to delivering successful solutions. They also recognized that product maturity was not what they expected. The result was that at GE interoperability became even more important than it had been back in the days when they sold products, which is one of the reasons that GE is a major supporter of SGIP and a Conference Sponsor.
In an interesting EnergyCentral webcast yesterday, Pat Corrigan Vice President, Public Utilities at Elster, Richard Gray, Manager of Enterprise Architecture at Kansas City Power & Light and Doug Lambert, Multispeak Program Manager at NRECA gave their perspectives on interoperability for the smart grid.
Pat Corrigan provided an overview of some of the challenges facing the utility industry as it moves toward implementing smart grid technologies. Perhaps the most important challenge is simplifying the complex web of devices, communications protocols, and applications such as SCADA, outage management (OMS), billing, DSM, AMI, and other applications. In the past each application represented a silo and there was very little interoperability between application silos. This is the world that Pat calls 2D. Each application uses its own protocols to talk to its own devices. Whatever integration there is between application silos is point to point and often involves custom programming that has to be retested whenever a new version of either of the applications is released.
Pat outlined a vision of the future, what he refers to as "3D", where applications, communications protocols, and devices all interoperate using standards and multi-device and multi-communications support built into devices and applications. For example, Elster has developed an integrated smart meter and radio called REXUniversal that supports a number of different radio protocols (multi-radio) as well as full support for standards such as IEEE 802.15.4g and Zigbee.
I hope this is indicative of a trend because if all vendors take the approach of building devices that support standards such as those from the IEEE, IEC CIM, Multispeak, OGC, and those in the SGIP Catalog of Standards as well as multiple communications protocols, developing smart grid solutions will become easier.
Standards enable devices from different vendors to be used interchangeably, thus encouraging competition and ultimately reducing prices. The internet is a classic model because it is a suite of standards from several standards organizations like the IETF, IEC, and W3C and is not "owned" by any vendor. But vendors can develop devices and applications that interoperate with other devices and applications from other vendors because they all use TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML, JSON and other internet standards.