GridWise Architecture Council Helps Keep the Smart Grid Open to Innovation

workers installing solar panels

The United States prides itself on the innovations that spring up from a wide variety of sources—from single inventors to large corporations—and a lot of those innovators see the Smart Grid as a potential new business opportunity. But how can these technical wizards be sure that their inventions will work with both today's and tomorrow's Smart Grid? The answer is found in the GridWise Architecture Council (GWAC).

Formed and hosted by DOE, the GWAC promotes and enables interoperability among the many entities that interact with the nation's electrical power system. The council focuses on the integration of the increasing number of automation, information, and control systems involved in Smart Grid operations, with the goal of making this integration simple and secure. The GWAC is also working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as it develops an interoperability framework, helping NIST to form working groups of experts on specific topics.

But the GWAC is not a design team or a standards-making body; rather, it exists to help identify areas for standardization that allow significant levels of interoperation. The 13 GWAC members are a balanced and respected team representing the many constituencies of the electricity supply chain and users, selected to represent the full spectrum of industry and academia. The members have broad-based knowledge and expertise in power systems, information technology, telecommunications, markets and financial systems, buildings, industrial controls, security, and other related sectors.

GWAC focused its initial work on establishing interoperability principles that have been recognized by many electric industry stakeholders and to which many are now subscribing. Currently GWAC is working with stakeholders to formulate a technical framework for electric system interoperability and integration issues. As such, the GWAC is developing checklists that stakeholders can use to recognize, advance, and implement interoperability in their projects.

The GWAC develops and disseminates written definitions and clarifications of interoperability principles, concepts, and recommendations, and provides guidelines, checklists, and position statements in support of its mission. One of the key products developed so far is the GWAC Interop Toolkit, designed to help people make more informed Smart Grid investment and policy decisions.

“Electricity and power grid infrastructure leaders and decision makers can use the GWAC Interop Toolkit to inform very complex discussions involving a myriad of advanced devices and systems, and how they could and should work together in a smarter grid,” says Ron Ambrosio, GWAC chairman.

A key component of the toolkit is the Interoperability Decision Maker's Checklist, which can be applied to proposed Smart Grid projects. The toolkit also includes a number of background documents, including the GridWise Interoperability Constitution, which establishes a consensus-based guiding framework for Smart Grid interoperability; a framework document that sets the context for interoperability; and three whitepapers focused on environmental, financial, and reliability benefits of interoperability. All of these documents are available in the publications section of the GWAC Web site.

The GWAC is also developing a new tool for the toolkit: the GWAC Interoperability Maturity Model, which will provide an objective, standardized method for rating the progress in interoperability of each utility and company involved in the Smart Grid. The model can help organizations assess their progress toward interoperability and assess the progress of other companies or organizations as well, to see if they are at a compatible level. Companies can also use the model to assess the progress within different operating divisions.

The GWAC holds face-to-face meetings at least three times per year, meets periodically through electronic and telephone conferences, sponsors strategic industry forums to discuss and promote the implementation of interoperable applications and systems, and coordinates with key industry organizations and DOE. DOE currently provides the GWAC with administrative, technical, and logistical support, although DOE expects that role to eventually transition to related industry organizations.

The GWAC sprung from the Pacific Northwest GridWise Demonstration Project, which also gave the council its name. The project teamed DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) with regional utilities and industry partners in a year-long Smart Grid demonstration. Showing the need for interoperability among Smart Grid components, the GridWise project spawned the GWAC in 2004.