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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with Dick DeBlasio

Dick DeBlasio chairs the IEEE 2030 Working Group that brought together communications, information technology and power engineers in collaboration to develop the world's first system-of-systems, foundational standard created from the ground up to inform Smart Grid interconnection and interoperability. In addition to his work with IEEE 2030, Dick DeBlasio is a member of the IEEE Standards Association Board of Governors, chief engineer at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) facility of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and IEEE Smart Grid liaison to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

IEEE 2030® "IEEE Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation with the Electric Power System (EPS), End-Use Applications, and Loads" was approved and published in September 2011. In this interview, we talk to Dick DeBlasio, chair of the IEEE 2030 Working Group.

Question: Who is using IEEE 2030, and how?

At this point, we have seen utilities internationally using IEEE 2030 for developing strategic plans and infrastructure roadmaps for the smart grid and universities using it for research and development (R&D). Primarily, it has been leveraged as an historical document; in time, it will be referenced and used as our knowledge base for IEEE and the global smart-grid discipline.

IEEE 2030 is a learning document with very little hype—just practical understanding of an interpretive system. For utilities, it can serve as a reference-model tool for road-mapping current and future smart-grid deployments. For governments, it can serve as a knowledge base for crafting regulations. It can be a reference tool for the sake of R&D, as we are already seeing in the universities' interest in IEEE 2030. Finally, the standard provides SDOs (standards-development organizations) with an overview of where additional smart-grid standards work would be beneficial.

One of the interesting things about IEEE 2030's being a systems-level guide to the interfaces in the smart grid is that this characteristic makes it particularly appealing to smart-grid stakeholders who share this perspective. China, for example, has shown an especially strong interest in IEEE 2030, and that is logical given the systems/architectural approach to the smart grid being taken in that country.

Question: Why is IEEE 2030 necessary now?

There has developed something of a theoretical argument about just how new of a development the smart grid really is. And it is very definitely true that the systems, techniques and strategies for delivering electricity have been gaining in intelligence for decades. However, the next-generation grid that is being built in markets around the globe is also a distinct departure from the past. End-to-end interoperability is a necessity if the revolutionary benefits promised by the smart grid are to be realized, and IEEE 2030 established a crucial baseline for helping the world's utilities and manufacturers work toward such a degree of interoperability.

Historically, when we've talked about the electric power infrastructure around the world, the model is pretty simple—a power generator at one end (usually a central-station power plant), an electricity consumer at the other end (a home or a business of some type) and not much in between in terms of consumption administration or control, other than the meter.

The smart-grid vision that has gathered consensus around the world is different. The traditional definitions of power generator and power user are being expanded. A whole variety of new integrated and interrelated technologies is coming into play for compensating the intermittency of renewable energy sources, load balancing, more efficiently utilizing assets, enabling expanded consumer choice, etc. It is all predicated on the overlay of a two-way network of communications and control that is far more powerful and pervasive than anything that utilities have implemented before. And the long-term vision is ultimately dependent on seamless, end-to-end interoperability at every interface—based on common data formats, content understandings and measurement units and machine-to-machine communications—across disparate markets. In these ways, the smart grid breaks fundamentally new ground.

IEEE 2030 defines interoperability as "the capability of two or more networks, systems, devices, applications, or components to externally exchange and readily use information securely and effectively." The guide presents, interface by interface across the grid, alternative approaches and best practices for achieving interoperability. IEEE 2030's labeled diagrams either show the requirements for securely integrating EPS with communications and IT and facilitating data exchange, or they illuminate a gap where additional standards development is necessary. It's a technology-agnostic reference model that maps the variables and choices that engineers will confront in either designing a utility's smart-grid deployment or designing a manufacturer's product for the smart grid.

IEEE 2030, then, supports a more extensible, scalable and upgradeable smart grid. The end-to-end interoperability that the guide defines helps avert dead ends with legacy infrastructure and squandered investment by utilities and manufacturers.

Question: What are the next challenges faced in the smart grid with regard to IEEE 2030?

Maintaining and then intensifying the global momentum have to be the objective now. As we talked about, the interoperability that IEEE 2030 attempts to define will play an important role in this area in that it will help today's critical, pioneering deployments connect seamlessly with next-generation deployments.

Beyond that, the intelligence documented in standards such as IEEE 2030 must be built upon. With research money growing scarce, it is only prudent that we wring as much ongoing value as possible from the investments that have already been made by sharing insights from the smart grid’s pilot projects and updating our existing knowledge base with the new lessons learned and best practices that are being gleaned from the field. Technical knowledge transfer is one of the most valuable benefits that consensus standards development can yield, and it's a particularly relevant benefit with regard to the smart grid. This is a global undertaking and a significant expansion upon the historical norms of our discipline; plus, we are on the precipice of a terrific turnover of utility personnel globally. Standards such as IEEE 2030 can help ensure that their expertise does not retire with them.

If the smart grid is to progress efficiently in market to market around the globe—without jeopardizing worker and public safety, power quality and reliability, etc.—we must engage in information sharing through standards development.

Question: Where do you see growth edges for smart grid standards development beyond IEEE 2030?

Among the critical areas right now are testing/validation, storage and EVs (electric vehicles).

As for technology testing and verification standards, they are key because the smart grid's most powerful potential benefits depend on taking the systems-level approach to smart grid rollout that we've been discussing. Consider the situation in the United States, for example, where R&D investment largely has gone toward material science and demonstration of deployments. This strategy stands to yield some truly innovative technologies for disparate segments of the smart grid; at the same time, those pieces must seamlessly conform within a systems-level architecture if they are to be cost-effectively utilized by manufacturers, utilities and consumers and if grid stability, reliability and safety are to be preserved. Technology validation and testing standards can help ensure the integrity of such a systems-level approach. The in-development IEEE P2030.3™ "Standard for Test Procedures for Electric Energy Storage Equipment and Systems for Electric Power Systems Applications" is an example.

As for storage, the need for standards development is driven primarily by the desire to increase reliance on renewable energy sources and the inherent intermittency of those. The interconnection technologies and standards for such a shift have been developed, but, because we never know when the sun is going to shine or wind is going to blow, we must have a way to store the energy produced by wind, solar and other renewable sources in order for them to be adopted in large scale for applications such as voltage support and supplemental peak power at critical operational times. The natural, dynamic effect introduced by renewable sources must be buffered if we are to see large-scale integration. IEEE P2030.2™ "Guide for the Interoperability of Energy Storage Systems Integrated with the Electric Power Infrastructure" is being developed for this need, as a wide-ranging technical knowledge base covering both discrete and hybrid technologies.

And then there is the tremendous opportunity presented by EVs. In a system in which power could flow both from the grid to EVs and from EVs to the grid, the next-generation smart grid would deliver a significantly more efficient, flexible and reliable infrastructure for electricity delivery. Most of the conversation around the global transition to EVs has been focused on how to manage the demands that EVs will add to the grid's current generation and distribution capacity, but it's important to recognize that EV batteries also could comprise a rich resource for distributed generation. What is clear in any event is that the shift to EVs is necessitating substantially enhanced capabilities for load management and demand response, and IEEE P2030.1™ "Guide for Electric-Sourced Transportation Infrastructure" is being developed to pave the way of that transition.