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Highlighting Interoperability

A decision-maker’s checklist provide a starting point—but not an end-point.

Fortnightly Magazine - June 2007

but it should lower considerably the costs for subsequent, related upgrades and expansions. In particular, the capital costs of building or upgrading a system represent the tip of the iceberg compared to the overall costs of owning, operating, and maintaining it over the long term. As long as interoperability and integration principles are implemented steadily across grid investments—in advanced metering, transmission and distribution automation, and capacity planning and system operations, or to better integrate energy efficiency, demand response, renewables and distributed generation—they will lower the costs of owning and operating the system over time while increasing the value that results for customers, utility owners and society.

Interoperability is a proactive investment. Look again at the Internet, banking, and telecommunications industries, and try to imagine each system without fully integrated interoperability. If interoperability had not been built in, it would be difficult, costly or nearly impossible to expand or update the system given the long life cycles of many of their critical underlying physical infrastructure assets. Even worse, patching and pasting fixes into a complex system usually introduces weaknesses that often lead to costly, damaging system failures. With deliberate interoperability, assets can be made to evolve in function, capability, and purpose, creating new functionality and value over time in old capital assets. It also becomes easier to assess the relative value and desirability of new assets with new capabilities and value creation, which may economically justify the abandonment of old assets that have become functionally obsolete.

Decision-Maker’s Interoperability Checklist

The checklist (see p. 80) is a tool to help regulatory and utility decision-makers evaluate options such as capital asset investments or new information technology opportunities to determine whether they have the characteristics and attributes that contribute to interoperability. Do they facilitate and enhance the transactions and flows of energy, information, and money across the electric grid, from electricity use through delivery to production?

Decision-makers can use the checklist to review electricity-related policy or asset investment proposals, including the purchase of new distribution and transmission equipment, the specification of advanced meters, the design of a new demand-response or distributed generation program, grid automation and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system), the adoption of new energy end-use devices, system software, or the adoption of new market protocols.

In every question on the checklist, an answer of “Yes” means that the project advances interoperability along the dimension outlined in that question. An answer of “No” or “I Don’t Know” means it may be possible to improve the proposal by modifying it to better address that interoperability criterion.

This checklist is a starting point for interoperability, not an end-point. Regulators and utility managers are encouraged to learn more about inter-operability and to scrutinize investment proposals more deeply after reviewing them against the points below.

The smart grid vision cannot succeed without interoperability, which will create tremendous savings and value for customers, the U.S. economy, and our society as a whole. A growing number of utility business cases for advanced metering infrastructure and transmission and distribution automation are proving that while the cost of changing infrastructure and