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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with James Gilb

In this interview, James Gilb offers his insights on Ethernet's involvement with smart grid applications and its numerous benefits, including bandwidth management and its wide availability. Gilb continues with his thoughts on the IEEE 802.24 Technical Advisory Group's relevance to the smart grid and his involvement with two other prominent IEEE groups: the IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee and the IEEE 802.15 Working Group.

Question: Ethernet turns 40 this year. How is it used in smart grid applications?

All the IEEE 802 standards, including Ethernet, use a unique address for their source and destination, and that enables “bridging” between Ethernet segments and between Ethernet and other IEEE 802 standards. The Ethernet “frame” includes a protocol identifier that allows multiple data networking protocols to travel the same wired link.

Ethernet also supports bandwidth management embedded in IEEE 802.1, enabling the prioritization of data for one protocol over another. That’s crucial for grid operations. For instance, billing data can be assigned a lower priority than SCADA data, which is a higher priority for the actual operation of the grid. This allows control and protection signals to travel the network in milliseconds, which is required for high voltage control and protection schemes. Less critical data – it’s important to the business, but it’s typically not crucial to grid operations – might travel the network in seconds.

Numerous vendors manufacture Ethernet equipment and support its development, which has led to robust competition that has made Ethernet solutions inexpensive and widely available. A competitive marketplace is good for the power industry and its diverse stakeholders.

Question: Would you tell us about the IEEE 802.24 Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and its relevance to Smart Grid?

Smart Grid TAG is actually the name of this group. The specific purpose of IEEE 802.24 is to bring together all experts in IEEE 802 technology to provide a unified voice on how IEEE 802 can address Smart Grid networking problems.

So we bring in experts on Wi-Fi, Wi-Max, Zigbee, Ethernet and Wi-Far to identify the appropriate technologies within IEEE 802 to apply to grid networking issues. It's really more of an outward facing, unified voice on IEEE 802 technologies, which are, without question, one of the standards for data communications expertise and IEEE 802.24 provides a focus to simplify access to get to that expertise.

Question: Would you describe your role in the IEEE 802 LMSC – the 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee?

By the way, LAN stands for local area network, as you might expect. MAN stands for metropolitan area network. As the Second Vice-Chair, I'm largely in charge of rules. We have an executive committee overseeing all of the IEEE 802 standards work, which ensures that we work together and avoid duplication and splintering. As the executive committee reviews proposals from various groups on the need for a new standard, it pushes improvements in the project requests so that we don't pursue two solutions that do the exact same thing. Each standard must bring something unique to the table. Secondly, we enforce adherence to an overall architecture, to prevent “splintering,” or non-interoperability. So, unique standards tend to lead to standardized gear, which through economies of scale can obtain market traction as least expensive solutions. Our view is that good solutions, good technology, will succeed in the market. It's not our job to pick them.

Question: What’s involved in the technical editor role you play for the 802.15 Working Group?

I'm trying to keep the standards and their documentation readable, in the sense that they all rely on the same conventions and readers find them concise and clear. I advise our technical editors to not repeat information, because if you state something in two separate places, there’s a tendency when updating the document to make changes to one passage and not the other. By demanding clarity and concision, we avoid the potential for different interpretations when that standard is implemented, which can wreak havoc with the goal of interoperability.

James Gilb is currently the IEEE 802 LMSC Executive Committee Second Vice Chair, the IEEE 802.15 WG Technical Editor and The Technical Editor of the IEEE 802 Architecture and Overview standard. He has 18 years’ experience in radar-absorbing materials, RFIC and radio systems design and MAC protocols. He has seven issued patents, written many papers in refereed journals and authored three books. He is the Director of Product Development and Technical Marketing at Tensorcom, which he joined in 2011.