In today’s modern business environment, standards for products and services have become common—and expected—practice. Standards create consistency among the products and services offered by different companies, which ultimately helps businesses, consumers, and the economy.
The AC plug is a good example. Although slight variations of this ever-present device exist—grounded/ungrounded, polarized/non-polarized— virtually all AC electrical products used in North America employ the common two- or three-pronged interface between a device and its electricity supply.
This simple standard provides assurance of safe and reliable operation just about anywhere on the continent. Equally important, the AC-plug standard enables manufacturers to devise, build, and market consumer electrical products without the added time and expense a non-standard plug design would require.
Much like the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), whose work led to the standard AC-plug configuration, the ISO/RTO Council, or IRC—consisting of the 10 independent system operators (ISOs) and regional transmission organizations (RTOs) from across North America—recognizes the value in having a common information-technology (IT) architecture for the systems used to operate inter-regional power systems and wholesale electricity markets.
As they balance electricity supply and demand within and across regional boundaries, ISOs and RTOs need to manage layers of information. Just as system operators need seamless, minute-to-minute access to their counterparts on the human level, their computer systems must talk to each other seamlessly as well.
Currently, many of the software applications used by ISOs/RTOs to run the bulk-power systems and wholesale electricity markets are based on similar software solutions, but diverse operating structures, market designs, and development paths have led to major disparities in software architectures.
As the operations of North America’s network of power systems become more integrated and electric reliability standards become mandatory, greater integration of the computer systems that regional operators depend on becomes imperative. These systems form the backbone for managing power generation and transmission, as well as the wholesale markets in which electricity is bought and sold.
When the ISOs and RTOs integrate their operations with one another, or when software from a vendor is implemented, innovative approaches are needed to reduce software customization costs and minimize application development delays.
To achieve this objective, the electric-power industry needs a coordinated effort to develop a common architecture for building, integrating, and implementing the complex software applications the industry depends on.
Such an architecture would enhance software-application innovation and reliability by embracing standards and encouraging re-use of applications by multiple companies—in the same way consumer software companies amortize their investments over thousands or even millions of users. Ultimately, electricity consumers would benefit from enhanced grid reliability and cost containment.
“The commission is pleased that the ISOs and RTOs are working cooperatively to develop a common IT architecture for the 21st century power grid,” said Joseph T. Kelliher, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees most U.S. ISOs and RTOs. “This initiative will help system operators realize long-term cost efficiencies in the design, implementation, and maintenance of the critical software applications that are the foundation of reliable grid operations.”
The ISO/RTO Council launched an initiative in 2006 called Enterprise Architecture Standardization (EAS) to address this need. The goal of the EAS is to eliminate the structural differences in key software applications used by ISOs and RTOs by developing a common software-application architecture and creating standard interfaces for integrating specific applications. A task force of highly skilled application architects from IRC member organizations is engaged in this multi-faceted program.
One of the major objectives of the EAS initiative is to achieve interoperability of energy management systems (EMS) and other software applications used by ISOs and RTOs, such as solutions from ABB, Areva, GE/Harris, Siemens, and other vendors. Since applications from these companies eventually will need to comply with the new standards, many of these companies are providing input to the task force to optimize the effectiveness of the architecture and the forthcoming standards.
Because the EAS project has the potential to streamline system- implementation projects, ISO/RTO information technology professionals will have more time and flexibility for other activities such as application testing and training.
Within the first year of its formation, the EAS task force has accomplished its first goal—developing a Technical Reference Architecture, or a blueprint for how the industry’s software applications should be developed and integrated.
For this, the task force analyzed common ISO and RTO services. For example, system planners evaluate generation interconnection requests and investigate transmission-expansion plans. System operators balance market forces with reliability requirements. Settlement teams collect physical and financial transactions, solve complex calculations, and create bills. IT professionals provide the mechanisms for collecting market data and providing near real-time pricing information. In combination, the applications that support these functions look remarkably similar, but it is only when looking at the details that differences emerge.
To develop the application architecture, the EAS task force reviewed similar initiatives by electric utilities and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) on distribution management. The task force also referenced the IEC’s Common Information Model (CIM), which enables transmission network operators to exchange information about the configuration and status of the transmission network under their control.
In addition, the task force adopted service-oriented architecture (SOA) concepts to describe the technical aspects of the project. SOA, which is commonly used among software-solution providers, is well suited for describing interactions among disparate systems. Many of the system operators already have adopted SOA for their internal development initiatives.
The next step for the EAS task force is to create a library of standards—one set for each component, all driven by the principles established in the Technical Reference Architecture. Teams of ISO/RTO software architects will work with software-solution providers and other interested industry parties to create a targeted set of standards. The task force will assess each initiative as it is completed and update the base architecture document and any other previously drafted standards as necessary. Thus far, the task force has created several sample standards, demonstrating that all of the required features are in place to describe real-world solutions.
The EAS task force has selected a handful of strategically important interfaces upon which to focus the initial effort, including:
Demand Response. Energy efficiency and conservation never has been more vital to ensuring a reliable supply of electricity. Accordingly, the ISOs and RTOs are working on systems to manage demand. These plans for demand-response systems figure heavily into the market and IT development plans in the near future. Prioritizing the development of a standard interface for demand-response applications makes sense because it enables ISO/RTO- software specialists, as well as application providers, to stay ahead of the development curve.
e-Tagging. In open-access transmission systems, such as those in North America, an entity must first reserve the necessary transmission service before arranging for an energy transfer schedule. Each energy transaction is identified through a computerized “tag,” and its impact on the transmission grid is calculated. The e-tagging system ensures that tags are created, sent, received, and approved in a timely, reliable manner. As inter-control area transactions grow in scope, effective e-tagging standards are becoming a necessity.
Outage Scheduling. The efficient processing of power-plant and transmission-outage requests and the management of scheduled outages are important services delivered by ISOs and RTOs. With an increased focus on congestion-management issues, outage coordinators need more efficient and powerful outage-scheduling tools. Several ISOs are working on plans for new outage-scheduling tools.
Settlements. Determining fees and payments for a set of wholesale energy and ancillary service-market transactions is a complex task. For each market to operate smoothly, market rules must be coded into software to cover each scenario envisioned during the design. Add to this mix software to handle large volumes of real-time operations information and metering data, and the software solutions become even more complicated. Small programming errors can lead to millions of dollars of incorrect settlement statements. For this reason, standardizing inputs and outputs of these systems should reduce such sizeable risks.
State Estimation. The state estimator is one of the most important tools used by system operators. This complex software application receives thousands of inputs from the electrical system (e.g., breaker positions, substation voltages, etc.) and creates an accurate “picture” of the bulk electrical system. Given the important role this tool plays, coupled with increased performance needs for speed and accuracy, attention to standardized interfaces naturally should gravitate to this area.
Unit Commitment and Security Constrained Economic Dispatch. In both day-ahead and real-time wholesale markets, ISOs and RTOs share a common process for determining which generating units (or biddable demand) will participate in the market and at what production (or consumption) level. Standardizing this key step in the process will help to align many upstream and downstream processes, such as receiving and validating energy bids and offers and awarding and dispatching resources.
Good standards help define common practices, but the idea is not to pigeonhole the user community into specific technologies. Although the architecture prescribes where information is transferred, and supporting standards detail what information should be transferred, implementation options are intentionally left open and flexible.
The final phase in the Enterprise Architecture Standardization initiative will be for the task force to help develop plans for the ISOs/RTOs to adopt and implement the architecture and standards. The goal is to have the first set of standards in place as a requirement for the next generation of application designs. As early as this year, software solution providers will be expected to comply with a new software-architecture standard.
Modern life depends on a reliable, cost-effective supply of electricity. Otherwise, business grinds to a halt and the everyday lives of residential customers come to a standstill. The complexity of designing a standard architecture for developing and deploying critical ISO/RTO-computing capabilities may at first seem a little daunting, but in the long-run, the benefits of the EAS outweigh the cost, time, and effort to implement it.
The EAS initiative will result in efficiencies. Developing a common software interface may appear more complicated than developing a common AC-plug configuration, but the goals are the same—enabling otherwise incompatible products to work together seamlessly, thereby reducing the complexity and cost to develop and install them.
Creating a standard for something as ordinary as an AC plug made for safer, more reliable consumer electric devices and streamlined their design and manufacture. Similarly, the time is right for creating a common language among the critical software tools needed to deliver a reliable, competitively priced supply of electricity through today’s integrated power grids and wholesale market structures.