Accelerating Grid Modernization

Accelerating Grid Modernization

This piece was originally published in the September 2016 issue of electroindustry.

Sharon Allan, President and CEO, SGIP

The silhouette of the evening high voltage substations

This decade has been marked by extreme weather incidents, and businesses across the nation have felt the impact when their power has gone out. While utility reliability on sunny days is very good across the nation, utilities are working on strategies to ensure that unanticipated weather disasters don’t cause extended outages. Grid modernization programs, where more communication allows connected devices to send information that helps isolate and restore power, have been the key.

Our goal at the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP)[1] is to work with industry (utilities, vendors, and consultants) and our national labs to remove complexity, drive efficiency through sharing of resources, and advance partnerships to accelerate grid modernization.

Embracing the Energy IoT

The SGIP has been working with utilities and vendors on the EnergyIoTTM Priority Action Plan[2], known as OpenFMB™, which stands for Open Field Message Bus, a reference architecture and framework for using IoT technologies. Our initial focus is on integrating microgrids, as they have the ability to continue to provide power in the event of an incident that takes out a piece of the normal utility power network.

OpenFMB for distributed intelligence leverages existing standards to federate data between field devices and harmonize them with centralized distribution management systems. OpenFMB enables interoperability by using a message bus to facilitate communication between many devices (e.g., solar photovoltaics, batteries, reclosers, switches, and microgrid optimizers).

Why is this important? In the case of power loss on a particular section of a feeder, the OpenFMB architecture and framework enables a microgrid to disconnect from the normal power feeder and run an operation without interruption. When power is restored, this same architecture allows the microgrid to reconnect with the power grid without disruption. It is this architecture that will help facilitate smooth transitions.

OpenFMB architecture and framework enables a microgrid to disconnect from the normal power feeder and run an operation without interruption.

Later this year we will launch an SGIP Online OpenFMB community that will have documentation and reference material, as well as actual OpenFMB code that can be downloaded, installed, and configured so that developers can write applications that utilities and third parties can test.

Working Group Unifies Stakeholders

Grid modernization isn’t just about installing new hardware or software; rather, it is about installing systems that impact not only the way utilities conduct their business but also how their field force personnel service items in the field.

The change management and business process aspects of a program are equally significant to the system components. SGIP has been working with many of the largest investor-owned utilities and municipalities to map out the effects of distributed energy resources (DER). The grid management working group brings together utility personnel from operations, business and strategy, and IT to generate these requirements.

The intended output is requirements that are needed in systems to address changes desired to manage electricity safely and reliably, as a result of the increased penetration of DER. The outcome is reduced risk in sourcing. This utility-hosted working group meets monthly and focuses on an agreed-upon topic. Later this year, the group intends to take its combined thinking and hold a meeting with the broader industry stakeholders to seek industry input and vet the requirements the group has identified. Ultimately, the information will be used for sourcing, and the collaboration aims to reduce risks by vetting multiple inputs.

To Go Green, Go Orange

We recognize that there are a number of distributed generation options coming to market. This is driven in part by the desire to offer new resiliency options, as well as the “pull” from customers for their own generation. On the regulatory front,

  • California has a state mandate to reach a 50 percent renewable energy mix by 2030;
  • New York plans to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030;
  • Hawaii plans to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2045; and
  • Vermont plans to get 90 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2050.

orange button initiativeSGIP is leading the stakeholder engagement and requirements for the Orange ButtonSM initiative, which aims to simplify and standardize solar data so that state and local governments, customers, utilities, financiers, solar companies, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders can exchange quality data.

Orange Button is part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative. SGIP is one of four organizations selected by the DOE to lead the Orange Button initiative, which will streamline the way the solar industry establishes and manages data. In order to boost solar bankability, the four organizations—SGIP, SunSpec Alliance, kWh Analytics, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory—will work together to tackle the challenge of creating a widely adoptable, unified data standard for the solar industry.

Because access to high-quality data impacts more than half the total price of a residential photovoltaic system, a robust data infrastructure for the solar industry is needed to enable rapid and seamless data exchanges between producers and consumers of solar data. By creating solar data standards, open marketplaces, and tools for accessing data by the private sector, Orange Button aims to reduce transaction inefficiencies and improve market transparency in a self-sustaining manner.

SGIP kicked off the Orange Button program in July 2016 and already has more than 310 companies registered to participate. The goal is to drive solar to $.06 cents/kWh.

On a wider scale, through various project-focused activities, SGIP is collaborating with industry to drive and accelerate grid modernization programs.


[1] The National Institute of Standards and Technology initiated the SGIP to fulfill its responsibility to coordinate standards development for the smart grid, under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. SGIP is a public/private partnership that defines requirements for essential communication protocols and other common specifications and coordinates development of these standards by collaborating organizations.

[2] The EnergyIoT (Enabling and Accelerating Grid Modernization through the Internet of Things) strategy advances interoperability by leveraging existing processes and standards and applying common, secure Industrial IoT technologies to create a fabric that is protected, reliable, resilient, and flexible.

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