International Standards and Conformity Assessment for all electrical, electronic and related technologies
Smart grid

Smart Grid

Optimal electricity delivery

Challenges

The Smart Grid is broad in its scope, so the potential standards landscape is also very large and complex. The fundamental issue is organization and prioritization to achieve an interoperable and secure Smart Grid.

Lack of awareness

Mature standards and best practices are available and can be readily applied to facilitate Smart Grid deployment. The main problem with adoption seems to be a lack of awareness of those standards by people involved in designing Smart Grid systems at a high level and a lack of clear best practices and regulatory guidelines for applying them.

Not a match made in heaven

Many Smart Grid project managers are trying to use standards together that were developed by different SDOs (Standards Development Organizations). Often standards may look like they match but because they deal with concepts at many different levels and from different view points they actually do not.

 

And even when elements were carefully chosen to artificially fit together, chances are that 10 or 20 years down the road that fit will have eroded.

 

This is largely due to the fact that each SDO develops its standards from a different vantage point, with different interests and criteria, updating and reviewing it based on different protocols. Those may be linked to an industry or interest group that has regional or national relevance only, which will however not stop it from calling its standards "international". The IEC is the only electrotechnical standardization organization that applies a truly international and consensus-based protocol.

 

The IEC already offers the large majority of technical standards you need. And we work closely with other SDOs to fill any gaps in our portfolio. We do so by bringing these standards into the international consensus system. A fast-track review allows to remove any potential bias while avoiding to have to rebuild a standard from scratch. The end-result is a truly relevant International Standard.

Technical challenges

The electrical network is composed of a high number of very distributed nodes that are tightly coupled and operating in real time. Since all the parts of this network have organically grown over many years, even decades, figuring out where intelligence needs to be added is very complex.

 

System engineering is a mature industrial discipline, but its level of complexity here is unprecedented. In the first place, the electrical system is in continuous operation. At the same time, it is evolving constantly while incorporating a huge legacy. The Smart Grid implementation has already started, and will continue to be implemented as an "evolution" of successive projects over several decades.

 

Different stakeholders are responsible for different parts of the system. Independently, each may make different choices about evolution and use.

 

It is now necessary to manage the integration of new equipment that has a lower life span than traditional network assets. Three to five years for consumer electronics and telecommunications, compared to 40 plus years for lines, cables, and transformers.

 

The Smart Grid represents a technical challenge that goes way beyond the simple addition of an Information Technology infrastructure on top of an electrotechnical infrastructure. Each device that is connected to a Smart Grid is, at the same time, an electrotechnical device and an intelligent node. Today's "connection" standards need to address both aspects concurrently.

Standards and interoperability

The major challenge is to integrate interchangeable parts from a variety of different providers worldwide. There is a huge need for interoperability standards that will allow utilities to buy pieces of equipment from any vendor knowing that they will work with each other and with existing equipment at every level. We are not simply talking about interfaces – one plug fitting with another – we need interoperation at all levels in a given system. They not only need to speak the same language they also have to understand each other's "thought" processes.

 

Instead of imposing detailed technical specifications at a global level we have to focus on key interfaces. This is how efficient standards for interoperability are creating a huge area of freedom and innovation for the benefit of manufacturers and the utilities.

What is interoperability?

There is a lot of confusion. The task ahead is to define the boundaries and needs of interoperability. In the end it is about making certain that each "box" can connect with all the others and that those "boxes" are interchangeable. The proprietary content of each "box" doesn't necessarily have to be defined in detail.

 

What needs however to be clearly defined are:

 

  • All the different elements of the system that need to speak the same language without the need for translators to achieve optimal speed for information exchange.
  • On a systems management level: what information is fundamental, which systems need to communicate and how this information needs to be routed.
  • On the physical level: the way the information needs to be transported (wires, cables, Internet, WiFi).

 

Today, each group of stakeholders seems to over-emphasize its own focus, and very often it turns out to become an Information Technology or Telecommunication debate. The discussions tend to become too technical, too detailed, and tend to forget that those elements constitute only a relatively small part of the overall energy network, which is significantly more complex.