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U.S. may be falling behind counterparts in smart grid innovation

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Thursday, December 13, 2012

A new report shows that installations of new distribution automation equipment in North America will still be highly dependent on DNP 3.0 LAN for years to come, even with budding acceptance of substation communications standard IEC 6150 in nearby Latin America and other global markets, Smart Grid News reports.

"The projections for all the Americas indicate increasing rapid adoption of IEC 61850 for distribution-level automation in the coming years, but a fair part of that shift will be driven by Latin America's new equipment installations, as opposed to retrofit of existing North American distribution networks," said IMS senior analyst Donald Henschel. "These new standards are coming, but supplier and utility experience indicates that DNP3 LAN has substantial ongoing opportunity for the next several years."

IMS Research, which released the study, also stated that growing concerns about the security of smart grid technologies, as well as federal government oversight, have been the biggest drivers of smart grid installations, and have led to many utilities to install highly advanced communications systems in their transmission infrastructure. Most notably, NERC CIP regulations have had a profound impact on adoption rates in the U.S., as compliance is crucial for operating efficiently and warding of stiff fines.

But outside the U.S., the report noted, IEC 6150 adoption has been seen in medium-voltage networks managed by large - usually nationalized - utilities.

The news source states that this is not the case in North America, where medium-voltage assets, which include everything from distribution substations and advanced metering, are under the jurisdiction of regulators managed by local and state officials. This could be one reason the U.S. has been slower to develop the necessary framework of standards that would further support smart grid growth. Most of the assets found in a medium-voltage system have not been operating for very long, and have not been properly integrated with the major protection and control systems that have been developed strictly for the smart grid.

"I get it. It's easier to use DNP and other tried-and-true protocols," wrote Jesse Berst, member of the advisory committee for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "But sometimes it's smarter to take a long-term view. To invest in future-friendly technology that brings with it greater interoperability, greater choice and greater flexibility. Even if it costs a few dollars more and requires some retraining."

SUBNET has developed many solutions that help utilities efficiently integrate substation automation and other smart grid technologies with legacy equipment.

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