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Green Ovations | Open-Source Smarts: How OpenFMB™ Supports DER Management

This article was published in the Electric Energy Online Nov/Dec Issue 2016
Aaron Smallwood VP Technology SGIP

If there’s one kind of system that just about every firm has, it’s a database. And, guess what? About 25 percent of relational databases are created with open source software, according to analysts at the research firm Gartner.

There are plenty of reasons open source code is gaining popularity. Among them are cost, as it’s often cheaper than proprietary code you can get from only one vendor. Also, it often has enhanced reliability and security because both of these improve due to the rigorous peer review that open source code undergoes by the community.

At SGIP we are encouraging the industry to embrace open source solutions like Open Field Message Bus, or OpenFMB™. The OpenFMB™ framework can help utilities effectively manage a circuit with high penetration of DERs by adding a layer of local data exchange and control to augment a distribution management system (DMS).

Initially the brain child of engineers at Duke Energy, OpenFMB™ has been expanded and developed by SGIP’s OpenFMB™ working group. In March 2016, it was ratified as a standard by the North American Energy Standards Board (NAESB). At SGIP’s 2016 Grid Modernization Summit held November 7th through 10th in Washington, DC, SGIP made the OpenFMB™ code available to all and welcomes new development efforts from industry players.


Built to evolve with our changing grid

OpenFMB™ isn’t a manufactured product, technology or solution. It’s a reference architecture, a framework for distributed intelligence designed to drive interoperability and facilitate data exchange between field devices.

By design, OpenFMB™ operates in harmony with existing and commonly used standards, such as the International Electrotechnical Commission’s Common Information Model (CIM). Similarly, OpenFMB™ is a common semantic or data model to be shared across various systems. You don’t have to use the CIM, but it is commonly used throughout the electric industry in North America.

Other key ingredients of OpenFMB™ are publish/subscribe (Pub/Sub) protocols. These are used widely in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) industry, and the development team leveraged three popular standards:

  • DDS: Data Distribution Service
  • MQTT: Message Queue Telemetry Transport
  • AMQP: Advanced Message Queue Protocol

In addition, several principles guided development of the framework. First, it had to be an agile and evolving architecture. One of the core beliefs held by development team members is that there is no one-size-fits-all technology that enables DERs to integrate with the existing power systems. So, our industry needs a framework that is flexible enough to handle any data model and any pub/sub protocol. At the same time, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel or duplicate any efforts in the standards community. It’s more efficient to leverage what already exists.

Additionally, our development team focused on trying to solve real problems and delivering business value. Plus, we made sure the system is flexible, scalable and backward compatible. And, naturally, we built security in from the start.

An elegant work-around

So, what does OpenFMB™ do? It eliminates the need to send data back to a head-end system, wait for that system to crunch its numbers and make a decision, then carry out the decision via a control signal sent back to a grid-edge device.

That’s what happens in today’s utility landscape. A typical Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system and DMS may come prepackaged with vendor-specific hardware, telecommunications and software. The only way to stitch various systems and technologies together is in the back office through integration. That takes time … lots of it. If you’re trying to coordinate solar and storage, for instance, the round-trip involved in such an effort takes so long, the cloud cover you were trying to correct for may already have moved on.

Today, it can be difficult to get information in the field shared between devices. So, we took the concept of an enterprise service bus and we put it as close to the grid edge as possible. With many of the devices that we would interconnect through this bus, there’s already a computer with some type of Linux system installed, so you may not even need additional hardware with things like inverters and controllers.

Instead, you could use OpenFMB™ to put in a virtual node that would allow peer-to-peer communication using a semantic model based on common languages and protocols. And, because of how the OpenFMB™ framework was designed, it can run on top of any network – wired or wireless. You can install multiple buses to direct interaction patterns and isolate data exchanges for multiple use cases.

One of the key benefits of OpenFMB™ is its ability to enable distributed intelligence. This feature is what’s needed for the efficient and scalable management of distributed energy resources, particularly on circuits with high penetrations of solar PV.

Another key attribute of the framework is its ability to provide local device coordination that is harmonized with existing centralized system control. Through this feature, grid operators can begin moving to a layered DER-management paradigm. That’s important because a lot of the analytics that are needed for DER integration while also avoiding reliability issues will need to be at the grid-edge. And, based on those analytics, we’re also going to have to coordinate DER-optimization to support the grid itself.

Putting OpenFMB™ to work

Once you start applying OpenFMB™, interaction patterns for each use case can be utilized to segment and isolate the data exchanges. For example, suppose you’re using a bus for microgrid optimization or distributed energy resource management. To achieve optimization, you need a variety of actors that share a common set of parameters.

In the use cases noted above, you may have a common interaction pattern that facilitates near real-time readings of kilowatts, VARs, voltage, current, phase angle, kilowatt hours, time stamp and state of charge. All the unneeded parameters that you can potentially get from the connected devices are not published to the bus.

You’ll be able to find code and documentation for the above microgrid use case on the OpenFMB™ Collaboration site, at a newly launched website available to any industry player that wants to leverage this architecture for grid modernization efforts.

The new site includes:

  • An OpenFMB™ overview that helps newcomers learn what OpenFMB™ is, how it works and future activities
  • Guidance on how you can get the standard itself from NAESB
  • OpenFMB™-related publications and an ever-growing use case library
  • Informational wiki’s and ways for the community to interact with one another as we move forward

Best yet, you’ll have access to OpenFMB™ code itself, hosted on an OpenFMB™ GitHub site. GitHub is an online collaboration site designed for hosting and developing open-sourced software. It allows people to download the code and share additional code that they’ve developed. We’re making the foundational set of OpenFMB™ code available so that developers and vendors in the electric industry can build upon it and create an active open-source community.

Among the types of code now available on the new site, you’ll find the OpenFMB™ Developers Toolkit, which is a downloadable, turnkey, executable file. Once you download it, you will be able to extract and install it, and you’ll have an OpenFMB™ implementation largely ready to use. Along with the code comes a full set of instructions and how-to information to help you get the most of this resource.

The site also has a do-it-yourself section for advanced users, and that contains several code snippets that you can manipulate and configure yourself. Once you have a basic familiarity with the OpenFMB™ code set, you can use these code phrases to explore security, experiment with scaling and pursue multiple use cases on your own.

SGIP is excited to share this site and its abundant resources with industry, but we’re also equally excited to see what people do with it. There’s a whole new grid-operations landscape out there to be addressed with OpenFMB™. SGIP invites you to explore this framework by visiting and be sure to bring your insights and innovations back to the site so you can share them with the entire grid-modernization community.