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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with Jim Wendorf

Jim Wendorf is the Director of Industry Connections for the IEEE Standards Association.

In his role as Director of Industry Connections for the IEEE Standards Association and as an IEEE Smart Grid Technical Expert, James Wendorf is helping organizations from throughout the Smart Grid ecosystem work together to incubate new technologies and standards for Smart Grid. A recognized leader in cross-industry and cross-discipline collaboration and consensus building, Wendorf previously served on IEEE-SA’s Corporate Advisory Group as a representative of private industry. A computer scientist, Wendorf has directed corporate strategies and standards development in computing and consumer electronics.

In this interview, James Wendorf describes Smart Grid activities, now under way at Industry Connections, to build a smart energy data repository; advance high-voltage solid-state transformer technologies; and develop wireless charging solutions for electric vehicles. He also discusses the importance of collaboration in the emerging Smart Grid industry and the roles computing and consumer devices will play in this new business environment.

Question: Tell us about IEEE Industry Connections and its role in Smart Grid.

Industry Connections is a program, within the IEEE Standards Association, for incubating and refining ideas for new technologies. It brings together corporations and individuals who are interested in a particular topic to explore the need for standards or technology development. If a standard is the objective, the participants might identify the performance or standardization requirements for the technology before the formal standards process begins. If a standard is not the objective, Industry Connections provides a forum for developing services or other deliverables that the participants agree are needed.

We are ramping up three Smart Grid activities right now: One activity is creating a smart energy data repository; another activity is studying high-voltage solid-state transformers; and the third is pursuing wireless charging solutions for electric vehicles.

Let’s talk more about each of these Smart Grid activities within Industry Connections. What is the purpose of the smart energy data repository project and what will it deliver to industry and business?

This is a new activity, prompted by interest from utilities, universities, researchers and companies in private industry, to find ways to effectively use and deal with the “big data” that will be generated by Smart Grids. The group had its kickoff meeting in December 2012 with more than a dozen organizations participating, and we are identifying additional organizations that might be interested in working on this.

As you know, utilities will need to access and analyze a wealth of data that will be gathered by smart meters and the thousands of sensors and intelligent devices deployed on the grid. The industry must have algorithms, techniques and policies to take advantage of this data, but it can’t fully develop these tools unless it has a repository of real data, from functioning Smart Grid systems, to work with.

This activity will build a very sizeable, prototype energy data repository with shared data contributed from multiple utilities. Among other things, the participants will use this resource to identify standard formats for accessing and transferring data; to develop and test algorithms; and to establish rules and governance structures for making data anonymous to protect consumer privacy and sensitive utility information.

All of these capabilities will be essential to Smart Grid and this data repository and associated projects will enable the participants to reach consensus on important issues and collectively benefit from the results. If successful, it could develop into a commercially operational system.

What is Industry Connections investigating in the area of high-voltage solid-state transformer technology?

This newly launched activity is bringing together a diverse set of experts to help accelerate the development and standardization of high-voltage solid-state transformers for Smart Grid.

These new transformers will play a fundamental role in Smart Grid because they will manage the two-way flow of power on the grid and automate and control power characteristics. They will also incorporate communications technologies that will give transformers the intelligence to monitor grid conditions in real time and transmit information to the utility and customer applications.

Yet high-voltage solid-state transformers are still so new that there is little experience with the technology. The industry needs to identify gaps in our understanding of this technology and in our standards and determine if new or revised standards are needed to spur commercialization and application of the technology.

The experts participating in this activity include traditional transformer technology experts, power electronics experts who are specializing in high-voltage solid-state technologies as well as experts from the computing and consumer electronics industries whose experience in low-voltage applications can also help inform this work. The specialists from these disciplines will share their knowledge and experience to help develop these transformers for the Smart Grid market.

What is the objective of your efforts in the field of electric vehicle wireless charging?

Industry Connections has established an activity to help advance technologies for wireless charging of electric vehicles. It will begin ramping up this work before the end of 2012.

Wireless EV charging is gaining attention because it will conveniently allow EV drivers to recharge their car batteries without plugging their vehicles into power outlets. Already, some companies are developing products that will enable consumers to recharge their vehicles passively by simply parking their cars over a charging unit that is installed in a parking space or driveway.

But there is also an opportunity to integrate wireless charging technology into public roadways so that a driver can boost their car’s battery charge while they are out on public roads, or while they are paused at a stoplight. Roadway wireless charging is exciting to the industry because it will help extend the range of EVs and encourage widespread EV adoption and use. Yet this technology will be very challenging to deploy because it will require a large, cross-industry and cross-discipline effort to build the technology into the highway infrastructure and connect these charging sites to the electric grid and local utility services.

Industry Connections has brought people together from all the stakeholder groups to explore the issues, identify standards that will be needed to facilitate commercialization of the technology, and perhaps develop a prototype system.

What are you learning from Industry Connections members about their Smart Grid concerns and needs?

Smart Grid is all about interoperating the power, communications and IT systems that exist in this emerging system of systems. The services that use these respective domains must interoperate and work together to achieve their intended functionalities. The IEEE 2030® standard provides a framework and reference architecture for interoperability and utilities worldwide are beginning to use the standard to deploy Smart Grid technologies.

What we're learning from our members is that while standards are fundamental to Smart Grid, people from the various technology disciplines involved in this new industry must also work together on a variety of shared results, in a way that is broadly encompassing and supportive but neutral so there is not an agenda favoring one side or the other. Consensus building is essential in much of the business of Smart Grid.

We’re also learning the value of leveraging expertise from across IEEE in Smart Grid activities as we develop prototypes of new systems, test interoperability of new technologies or develop standards and guidelines. Our approach at Industry Connections is to bring people together in a productive environment, get them talking to one another, let them explore their ideas very broadly and encourage them to publish their research, and use the results of these efforts to identify the next steps needed to get the required work done.

How do you make this multidisciplinary, cross-industry business environment succeed?

Bringing people together from different industries who have never really interacted with one another before is a challenge. Typically, when industry professionals go to a conference, they are talking only with their peers about their own part of a system. Smart Grid takes people out of these comfort zones. Utility experts, for example, are suddenly finding that they must talk in great detail and at great length about communications technologies that will connect smart meters back into the rest of their systems. There’s a learning curve for everyone.

In order to provide an ability for this very diverse sets of experts to come together to solve Smart Grid problems, the industry first needed to develop a shared concept or architecture. The IEEE 2030 standard was developed to help address this need. It also provides a shared terminology so that experts from all disciplines can use the same language when they are talking about similar things.

A practical environment like Industry Connections can also help experts from various fields develop ways of communicating with each other and obtaining the information they need to make more business decisions. And perhaps even more importantly, we have found that when working together to find common solutions to shared problems, participants develop respect and trust for one another. These are often the best values to have because they encourage greater understanding across different disciplines.

How do you envision computing and consumer technologies becoming part of Smart Grid?

From the computing standpoint, data repositories and data analytics will be extremely important. And cloud computing will be a big part of this because it will allow utilities and their partners, no matter where they are located geographically, to access and analyze the massive amounts of Smart Grid data to monitor or improve system performance or develop new services. Cloud computing for Smart Grids will require the development of new standards, as well as security and privacy assurances. IEEE is looking into these needs from a technical standpoint and it is exploring the need for standards related to data storage and analytics, which I mentioned earlier.

Consumer electronics will become part of Smart Grid as customers employ user-friendly devices, applications, and interfaces on their household appliances to understand, control and monitor their energy usage. Consumers will be able to use their devices to adjust the patterns of their electricity consumption to reduce their energy costs and their contribution to the utility load, or to give feedback about their services to their electricity suppliers. These devices and capabilities will transform utility services because they will engage consumers as direct participants in Smart Grid. But the industry will need common interfaces for these consumer-facing applications, and this is another area needing standardization.

James Wendorf has devoted his career to the advancement of new technologies and helping innovative organizations collaborate to achieve their shared strategic goals. Before assuming his current role at IEEE SA’s Industry Connections, Wendorf was vice president of standardization at Philips Electronics. Previously, he was vice president and sector director of software, interaction and connectivity at Philips Research.