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NERC Today and Tomorrow

Living in the new world of mandatory reliability standards.

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2010

include the examples of excellence, former NERC operating guides, regional guides and surveys of operating practices. The task force recommended that the operating committee assign subcommittees to develop the guidelines and set a process for industry review. 8 At that time, the reliability standards weren’t yet mandatory.

NERC continued to follow the 2005 Best Practices Task Force Report recommendations after the standards became mandatory in 2007. One such set of operating guidelines was created by the real-time tools best practices task force (RTBPTF), which the operating committee formed to identify “minimum acceptable capabilities and best practices for real-time tools necessary to ensure reliable electric system operation and reliability coordination.” 9 Although it took three years of fact finding and analysis to produce recommendations, it occurred concurrently with mandatory standards development and included non-mandatory guidance. RTBPTF recommended 16 operating guidelines and the creation or modification of significantly more mandatory standards, indicating that the guidelines aspect of the regulatory regime is underused. 10 The operating guidelines suggested implementing real-time tools, including visual tools, accurate data and reliability analysis, contingency screening criteria, and the minimum items necessary for actual and required operating reserves calculations. 11

Other non-mandatory guidelines are found in the three-year cycle reliability readiness evaluation and improvement program, which evaluates the reliability readiness of balancing authorities, transmission operators and reliability coordinators. 12 Examples of excellence are distinguishable from best practices in that the examples of excellence identified in the program are “notable, effective and feasible” examples that organizations should review to determine if they could be applied to improve their operations, while best practices are defined as the specific “singular best approach.” 13 The examples of excellence cover topics as varied as cyber security, outage coordination and communication, real-time monitoring and system restoration. The downside of such explicit guidance is that the three-year cycle audits don’t necessarily identify the most current examples of excellence as the oldest examples posted on the Web site are from 2004 audits and the most recent ones are from 2008. Similar guidelines or examples of excellence would be helpful in the development and implementation of the smart grid. The smart grid is one of the most important developments facing the bulk power system today and also one of the most challenging. 14 Some of the smart-grid challenges include increased automation and new communication paths. Currently, approximately 60 percent of North American control centers link to other utilities. 15 Data sharing between control centers and reliability coordination is a positive development as it will improve operations and situational awareness. It is also negative, however, because the bulk power system’s vulnerability to cyber attacks increases with more information sharing, and greater potential is created for human error and automation weaknesses. 16 Furthermore, structural smart-grid changes such as accommodations for plug-in electric vehicles, grid-connected distributed generation and renewable sources will affect the overall bulk power system in physical ways. 17 These cyber security issues and physical changes to the grid will translate into new or revised mandatory standards. 18

NERC is changing the formal standards for critical infrastructure protection (CIP), but