Smart Grid Interoperability – Still Some Way Off

Interoperability is a must for development of smart grids but key challenges need addressing to achieve it.
Published: Wed 13 Aug 2014

A new review from the Global Smart Grid Federation (comprised of national smart grid initiatives) finds that while numerous organizations around the world are working on interoperability of products and service for the smart grid, a good deal of work is necessary still to achieve that goal.

Describing the smart grid as a “multi-vendor, multi-standards, local manufacturing and multi-operator environment”, the authors note an absence of a common definition of ‘interoperability’ – at least 25 different definitions have been identified. There are also more than 530 different smart grid standards.


Interoperability gaps and challenges

A review was undertaken of standards for distribution grid management, network communication and metering infrastructure, revealing considerable gaps. These gaps need to be managed. Given that this work is time consuming and there is a lack of experts to involve, there is also a need to clearly prioritize the standards to work on.

From the manufacturers’ perspective there are a number of challenges to integrate components, systems and technologies from different manufacturers. A supplier’s implementation of a protocol should be tested by an independent testing organization for compliance with the standard; however, interoperability with other supplier’s components for the same protocol can only be tested and verified in an industry ‘plug fest’. Most of the technologies, products and services are also ordered locally, so there are a huge and wide variety of different standards for a specific and local solution. Difficulties may also be experienced in finding testing facilities which are approved by (local) utilities.

Recommendations to advance interoperability

The conclusions of the report include several recommendations:

  • Further harmonization of the smart grid standards and interoperability work are ongoing across the world, with improved cooperation between standardization organizations (the main ones in this area being the IEC, CEN/CENELEC-ETSI in Europe and NIST, SGIP and IEEE in US).
  • A follow up on the new roles and services critical for smart grid development, such as demand response, flexibility services, curtailment of distributed renewable energy resources, and the way they are treated by market regulation. In many areas, either standards or market regulation can be applied for the same smart grid item.
  • An advanced cyber security framework is needed for interoperability, building on the two basic procedures of Digital Protection Impact Assessment and Best Practices.

Other works of interest:

  • A detailed study of the works by the standardization organizations.
  • Analysis of so called ‘killer applications’ (that are so necessary that they prove core value) in order to achieve the goal for smart grids, such as energy storage, demand response, distributed resources, curtailment, etc.

Appropriately given its nature, the Federation is also recommended to continue its work in this area, with further studies and information sharing.

Further reading


GSGF-Smart Grid Interoperability[pdf]