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Interoperability may be biggest issue for smart grid deployments, Harvard paper suggests

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Several new technologies have been developed that promise to improve grid reliability and utilities' overall operating efficiency, but bringing all of these disparate devices, technologies, software and communications together could bring unprecedented challenges for the industry.

According to FierceGovernmentIT, a new report from the Berkman Center for Internet Society at Harvard Law School found that making segments of the grid architecture interoperable could be the largest barrier between today's antiquated power network and the smart grid of the future.

"Stakeholder collaboration across all states and territories as well as throughout the development and implementation process is a necessity," wrote report author Paul Kominers, research director at TurboVote.

Improved interoperability measures will come from new requirements developed by the National Institute of Standards in Technology (NIST), which is tasked with coordinating the degrees to which interoperability already exists, and to measure the amount of openness, or interchangeability, is currently in the grid.

The report stated that as more smart grid technologies are developed, the products should focus on interchangeability in order to "design a system that can easily integrate new and more efficient versions of older devices," Kominers wrote.

However, stating that interoperability must exist and actually creating a smart grid that is fully interoperable are two very different things. The utter magnitude of the North American electric grid presents several challenges when it comes to designing an open grid, not to mention the huge number of stakeholders and the current lack of strong standards. Kominers wrote that the lack of standards is likely due to a fewer investments.

"The process requires substantial investments in both time and money in order to succeed, and its payoffs will be in averted costs over the following years. However, the sunk costs required are huge enough that traditional industry or market forces are unlikely to join together to successfully invest," read the paper.

The paper also stated that for the smart grid to take off, more utilities will need to adopt the systems, which in turn would drive more case studies that would verify the benefits of such a system.

SUBNET has addressed interoperability by developing a strictly vendor-agnostic approach that allows its software and products to be used alongside any intelligent electronic device on any substation, with data securely sent across any communications platform. 

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