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September 01, 2009

Smart Grid Experts: Interoperability, Standards Are Urgent Needs



Much has been made of the cost, reliability, safety and environmental benefits of the smart grid – which updates traditional power grids by carrying electricity using digital technology – and at this point, as utilities and service providers are forced to take a hard look at the technology, there is no more critical issue than smart grid interoperability and development of industry standards.
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This morning, during an industry event dedicated to smart grids, one member of the board of directors of the SIP Forum called smart grids “one of the most important communications initiatives of the past five years.”
 
“It is nothing less than a complete redesign of the communications network that controls and delivers electrical power,” Richard Shockey told more than two dozen IP communications and technology professionals, C-level executives, media members and others during the opening session of the Smart Grid Summit.
 
The event – collocated with ITEXPO West 2009, held Sept. 1 to 3 in the Los Angeles Convention Center – continues this afternoon in room 511A of the center.
 
This morning’s session – on interoperability and standards – will be followed by expert panel discussions throughout the day that focus on energy management in the home, emerging smart grid opportunities, utilities and their smart grid visions, and communications opportunities for utilities.
 
“We’re very excited to be building communities of interest in the area of such an important technology, which has not only the potential to help companies make money, but also to improve people’s lives and better our environment,” said Rich Tehrani who, as CEO of TMC (News - Alert), serves as chairman of the umbrella ITEXPO event.
 
Sitting at a singular crossroads of technology, communications, disaster planning and green technology, smart grids take the electricity grid and deliver to it communications and computer technology, so that suppliers can deliver electricity to consumers in a wider range of conditions, while also accommodating wind and solar power sources.
 
Industry experts say smart grids could hold a key to improving electrical system efficiency and environmental footprint while making the system more reliable, with fewer outages.
 
On these pages, experts such as Jon Arnold and Shidan Gouran – who are co-hosting the summit – have discussed the wider environmental picture into which smart grids fit, the impact of emerging smart grid technologies for service providers and the international reach of smart grids.
 
It makes sense that a representative from the SIP Forum would help kick off an event that focuses on standards and interoperability.
 
As the executive director from the group told Arnold in a recent interview, as utilities contemplate building a communications infrastructure overlaid with their existing power grids, they will need to be able to support the various signaling requirements of a smart grid deployment.
 
“The SIP Forum sees an important, emerging role for SIP in this effort in terms of providing support for various device management, video monitoring and surveillance, and advanced metering issues, to name a few,” Marc Robins (News - Alert) told Arnold. “The industry is clearly in the very earliest stages of investigation and planning into the specific design of the Smart Grid infrastructure and what technologies are most appropriate to deploy. The SIP Forum is likewise in an investigative mode to determine if SIP is the logical communication standard protocol of choice for this environment, and if so, how would it need to be adopted to support required Smart Grid applications.”
 
During this morning’s session, Shockey talked about how new smart grid applications are forcing the issue of how electrical utilities communicate with businesses.
 
“The goal ultimately is to overlay a resilient a communications network on top of the industry,” Shockey said.
 
“The utilities are legitimately concerned, if not downright terrified, of what the outcome of all this attention will be,” he continued.
 
In addition to Shockey, speakers during this morning’s session included Joe DiAdamo, chief technologist in smart grids for Siemens Enterprise Communications (News - Alert), Erich W. Gunther, chairman and CTO of EnerNex Corporation and a member of the Department of Energy’s GridWise Architecture Council and Ralph Martinez, chief scientist at BAE Systems (News - Alert).
 
“Smart Grid is a very broad and complex topic, with lots of issues and stakeholders,” Arnold told TMCnet in an interview between sessions. “SIP has a key role to play but does not seem to be high on the smart grid priority list.”
 
Smart Grid Summit participants are scheduled to probe the topic deeper during a questions-and-answer session at the end of the day, Arnold said.
 
According to DiAdamo, key concerns for utilities include: cyber security, costs, complexity, future-proofing and standards interoperability.
 
“The need for interoperability, the need for standards is critical,” DiAdamo told summit attendees. “That’s where we think SIP can help. We’re not suggesting that SIP can be a meter management protocol. But what it does is enable a system to discover, to negotiate a session with the meter and then enable a specific protocol.”
 
Gunther also called for the need for a standards “road map,” and the need to focus on a disciplined approach on capturing requirements for each individual part of the system.
 
The government has given that job to the National Institute of Standards and Technologies – or “NIST.”
 
“The need for standards is urgent,” Gunther said. “Interoperability is a key theme in smart grid deployment – it’s necessary if we’re going to realize the benefits of the smart grid.”

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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan
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