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KEMA’s New Smart Grid Interoperability Laboratory

As we all know, today's smart grid initiatives have given rise to multiple emerging products and services from a growing number of suppliers. Utilities want choices among vendors' products. As smart grid technologies mature, the need to ensure interoperability of products from multiple vendors will become significant. Although standards-setting organizations strive to provide a level of safety, quality and consistence in their products, traditional laboratory environments cannot guarantee that products form multiple vendors will interoperate smoothly when combined in the real world. As smart grid interoperability standards are relatively new on the scene, it is all the more important to ensure the end-to-end integration and compatibility of technologies to be deployed.

The fact that individual products are functionally tested for compliance with industry standards, such as ANSI and IEEE, does not always equate to interoperability among similarly tested products. Products can be compatible with each other and coexist on the same network, but not be interoperable together. Similarly, products can be compliant with industry specs (such as ANSI C12.19, IEC 61850), but also not be interoperable. Interoperability includes multiple aspects of form, fit and function.

For example, smart meters require a smart network interface card (NIC) that is specifically designed (both physically and electrically) to enable two-way communications between a specific meter and a specific communications network. You can have a L+G meter/NIC combination that is interoperable with a Silver Spring Networks RF mesh network or an Itron Centron meter interoperable with an Itron OpenWay RF mesh network. Both meters are ANSI C12.19 compatible but neither would work in the other RF mesh network without a different NIC. There are many examples of utilities that chose separate suppliers for meters, NICs, local communications networks, back haul communications networks and Meter Data Management Systems. These utilities then had to spend additional time and money to enable these networks to interoperate harmoniously with each other as a single Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system.

Products can be tested for compatibility and compliance with existing standards and specifications in a sterile test lab environment, involving only the product and associated test equipment. Typically, the test equipment provides an input stimulus and other test equipment measures the output response. According to the EnerNex Corporation's Existing Conformity Assessment Program Landscape Version 0.82, conformance testing "determines whether an implementation conforms to the standard as written, usually by exercising the implementation with a test tool." The report also states that, "almost all of the available testing programs are for [conforming only] to the standard; they do not test for interoperability between systems."

We are only just beginning to see the wide-scale adoption of smart grid interoperability standards and the on-going compliance validation of smart grid product performance to these standards. IEEE 2030 provides useful definitions, however, such as a Smart Grid Interoperability Reference Model, which we support.

To effectively evaluate technology choices, and to determine the impact these might have on the operational objectives, there is a need to have a managed and maintained reference system that would be used to form the baseline for these comparisons and decisions. Emerging and evolving standards will affect today's designs; to evaluate the impact and efficacy of using these, it is necessary to again have a reference system that can be used to determine the best solution to fit the business, economic and risk mitigation needs of many utilities.

Thus, we have reached a point where the utility industry and key suppliers are moving forward in this still-foggy environment and must manage their exposure to risk. As utilities select technology providers and solutions, and as these technology providers begin to sell their solutions, it is important that they be able to verify business case projections. Utilities need to both understand the aggregate value of their smart grid components and validate the individual devices that make up their smart grid system. Only then will they have more predictable and favorable smart grid project cost structure, providing more assurance that they will see a return on investment.

Exclusive reliance on vendor testing is risky, particularly as the vendor's perspective often is limited to its sphere of interest and influence; often the vendor's viewpoint does not take account of the need to link elements and to evaluate the impact that their particular element could have on end-to-end performance requirements. What the situation requires is a system that links all elements in an end-to-end environment.

The biggest challenge occurs when we connect a bunch of certified products from multiple vendors together and expect them to play nice with each other. This problem is exacerbated when we try to replace a piece of the overall system with a product made by a different vendor. Existing testing labs lack the ability to test interoperability of products and systems with each other. What we need is an independent smart grid interoperability lab that can create the infrastructure, communications, and the end-to-end system environment to adequately test the interoperability of multiple vendors’ products in a real-life operating environment.

With this in mind, KEMA recently opened the doors to its Smart Grid Interop Lab in Erlanger, Kentucky, a project that was nearly two years in the making. The lab is managed by KEMA's Powertest division, led by full-time engineering professionals, and is supported by KEMA's global testing and consulting organizations. The lab provides an independent environment to perform robust pilot and performance tests, with a core focus on reliability, optimization, ongoing conformance and cyber security. In essence, KEMA's Smart Grid Interop Lab is a technologically advanced test facility to verify device interoperability and validate compliance of low-voltage automation devices, meters, and consumer products with evolving smart grid standards.

The lab leverages KEMA's 80-plus years of experience as a leading independent provider of high- and medium-voltage testing and certification, and technical and management consulting to the global energy and utility industry. It enables flexibility and innovation within existing smart grid programs and configurations, as NIST, IEEE, IEC, NEMA, and industry stakeholders work to define a national smart grid interoperability framework. It combines operational smart grid and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) features with network simulation tools to enable testing of network elements, use cases, and special test scripts in a live, functioning smart grid configuration that includes real meters, real communications networks and real head end equipment in addition to state-of-the-art communications simulation equipment. The Smart Grid Interop Lab also includes a live 13.8 kV feeder to act as a test bed for distribution equipment and SCADA systems. As models can replace hardware elements, the lab enables faster and more encompassing testing.

The Smart Grid Interoperability Lab is first a test bed for interoperability testing. There are no "standard" tests for interoperability. With testing and pilot programs, solutions can be configured for any variety of smart grid elements. Each test of interoperability requires that we define the operational configuration, identify appropriate use and test cases, define communications requirements, run all applicable tests, and document the results.

Communications testing is the most significant part of interoperability testing. Real interoperability testing involves end-to-end testing of the complete system in a real operating environment. This requires the communications test system to be able to generate significant message traffic in order to stress equipment to the limits of its capability. The systems must also inject quantified anomalies, such as latency, jitter and packet errors, into the communications system to verify operation if these anomalies are present. Finally, they should be able to measure the characteristics of real-life networks so they can be emulated during test.

The Smart Grid Interoperability Lab provides the framework for testing products and systems in a live operating environment that creates real-life operating conditions. We hope that it will provide the industry with a valuable tool and help lift some of the fog that has dimmed smart grid prospects.

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Contributor

  • Harry StepheyHarry Stephey is an IEEE member and has over 40 years of experience in engineering management, product development and project management. Since joining KEMA, he has managed a number of major projects involving Advanced Metering Infrastructure, renewable energy and ARRA Stimulus Fund applications. He has also been a major contributor to several international AMI programs involving U.S. government installations and international utilities. He is the Project Manager for implementation of KEMA's Smart Grid Interoperability Lab (SGIL) and construction of a microgrid at KEMA PowerTest facilities in Chalfont, Pennsylvania.

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About the Smart Grid Newsletter

A monthly publication, the IEEE Smart Grid Newsletter features practical and timely technical information and forward-looking commentary on smart grid developments and deployments around the world. Designed to foster greater understanding and collaboration between diverse stakeholders, the newsletter brings together experts, thought-leaders, and decision-makers to exchange information and discuss issues affecting the evolution of the smart grid.

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