Software Model Helps Assess the Maturity of Smart Grid Efforts Worldwide

hand pointing at graph on computer monitor

Worldwide adoption of the Smart Grid is in the early stage. Initial investments are being made and utilities are beginning to address the strategy, management, and regulatory issues involved in transitioning to a Smart Grid. They have begun to realign their organizations to support a Smart Grid operating philosophy, and they are making gains in the asset monitoring, tracking, and maintenance needed to support a Smart Grid.

We know this thanks to the Smart Grid Maturity Model: a tool that an organization can use to appraise, guide, and improve its Smart Grid transformation. It allows utilities to plan, quantifiably measure progress, and prioritize options as they move toward the realization of a Smart Grid. In addition, by providing a standard set of metrics to evaluate each utility's progress, the model also serves as an evaluation tool for the utility industry as a whole, allowing each utility to assess its progress relative to other utilities that are actively pursuing the Smart Grid.

The Smart Grid Maturity Model is software developed by IBM and the Global Intelligent Utility Network Coalition, with the assistance of APQC. The model is now being further developed by the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. SEI is a federal research center with a mission to advance software engineering, serving as a national resource in software architecture, computer security, process improvement, and systems integration.

More than 40 utilities worldwide have participated in the model to date, with 60% of the utilities located in the United States and the majority of the remainder located in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The utilities range from fully integrated utilities—providing generation, transmission, distribution, and retail sales—to single-function utilities that provide only power transmission or distribution.

The Smart Grid Maturity Model divides Smart Grid activities into eight domains, including activities associated with utility management and organization, grid operations, workforce and asset management, technologies, customer-focused services, value chain integration, and societal and environmental aspects of the Smart Grid.

Each domain is divided into six numeric levels, with "0" representing the status quo and "5" representing industry-leading innovation. Most utilities now participating in the model find that the majority of their efforts land in level 1, "Initiating," which means they are taking the first steps toward developing a Smart Grid, or at level 2, "Enabling," which means that they are investing in and implementing their first Smart Grid projects, which may be limited in scope.

The eight domains and six numeric levels form a 48-cell grid that can help a utility define where it stand on Smart Grid deployment and where it wants to go. To help utilities determine where they land on the numeric spectrum, levels 1-5 of this grid are fleshed out with 175 characteristics that represent the features you would expect to see at each level. That's more than four characteristics for each level within each domain.

For instance, in the Customer domain, a utility will be at the Enabling level (level 2) if pilots of advanced metering infrastructure or automated meter reading are underway, if the utility knows its residential customer usage on more than just a monthly basis, if it is piloting the use of remote connect and disconnect for residential customers, if it has specified security and privacy requirements for its Smart Grid pilot projects, and if it is assessing the impact on the customer of related new services and delivery processes. The utility should also be modeling the reliability of its grid equipment to help inform its future investments.

It’s important to note that achieving the pioneering level in any domain may not be the goal of utilities unless it is supported by a strong business model, but the tool will indicate what would need to be done to achieve that level, if so desired. The expected characteristics include the ability for customers to manage both their energy supply and usage, including their mix of energy sources, with the ability to easily connect new customer-based generation sources to the grid, including wind turbines and solar panels.

Utilities participating in the Smart Grid Maturity Model receive a lot of support along the way. A certified "Navigator" leads the utility and its stakeholders through a five-step process, which includes two workshops: a survey workshop, to determine the utility's current Smart Grid status, and an aspirations workshop, to reach consensus on where the utility is going. For each domain, the utility then breaks down its approach in terms of its motivations, the actions needed to achieve the target, and the obstacles to be overcome.

The Smart Grid Maturity Model continues to grow and mature. In September 2010, SEI published version 1.1 of the model, which was pilot tested with more than 30 utilities. The new version is built upon the architecture of the original model. This allows results obtained with the new version to be comparable to those determined with the older version.

SEI is now working with APQC to encourage widespread industry adoption of the model. Broader adoption will make its accumulated knowledge base more valuable for anyone tracking the progress of the Smart Grid. The model developers see great potential for detailed analyses of the model's database, including segmented analyses and comparisons by utility size, type, geography, or other variables.

The model has proven its value in a new, unexpected way by helping to develop a national Smart Grid roadmap for Mexico. Under a pilot project with a Mexican utility and the Mexican Energy Ministry, the Smart Grid Maturity Model was applied to the entire country of Mexico. The proof-of-concept project demonstrated the model's usefulness for countries that are just preparing to embark on a smart grid transformation effort.