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Interoperability Profiles – A Better Way to Buy Grid Technology

Imagine browsing online for a new computer app. Once you have located the app, you swiftly hit the ‘download’ button – and immediately realize you’ve purchased the Windows version, which is incompatible with your Apple device. You have become a victim of technology tribalism.

If your device represents a utility’s service territory, and the app represents new technology being connected to the grid, then this example demonstrates the device interoperability failures possible within today’s smart grid. As newer and more complex technologies connect to the grid, opportunities for failure increase.

Why Can’t All Devices and Systems Get Along?
As manufacturers develop new devices, smart grid standards and conformance tests should ensure interoperability — the ability to exchange actionable information between two or more systems. However, the industry remains encumbered by a lack of interoperability at the device/interface level. Without time consuming and often expensive software and hardware integration, adding new smart grid devices, supported by multiple different standards, onto a distribution system will likely result in systems that aren’t interoperable.

Current smart grid standards exhibit three characteristics that may present interoperability issues. The first is the wide range of applicable standards that can pertain to a smart grid device. For example, over 30 international standards could apply to a customer smart meter.

The second is the wide range of configuration options allowed within the guidance of each standard. Using the example above, the standards applied to a smart meter would contain configurations, such as voltage output or power regulation, governing different aspects, such as firmware upgradability (NEMA SG-AMI 1), control network (ANSI/CEA 709.1-D-2014), performance criteria (ANSI C12.1-2014), and more.

The third factor is the device-to-device and device-to-software interactions at the system level that further complicate communications across domains. For example, energy management systems need to transfer information between the distribution and transmission levels. However, the operational limits or system requirements — as defined by the standards that serve different system levels — may not be sufficiently interoperable when used together. Conflicting limits or requirements may result in a failure to deliver the desired information exchange, i.e. hampering distribution system functionality.

Interoperability Profiles: The Key to Safe Implementation of Smart Grid Standards
Identifying where interoperability is most needed, and then studying those device and utility system communication interfaces, is the most efficient and targeted way to develop grid technology with built-in interoperability. Documenting the process can lead to the development of an interoperability profile.

An interoperability profile specifies standards-based requirements for interfaces or applications that are accepted by the user-community, testing authorities, and other stakeholders. It specifies configuration options within a standard’s requirements sufficient to deliver the desired level of interoperability and functionality.

For a snapshot of how the smart grid industry views interoperability profiles, and what challenges may stand in the way of testing interoperability, see this NIST, SEPA and IEEE Workshop on Smart Grid Interoperability Testing and Certification.

The main benefit of an interoperability profile is that the resulting implementation of smart grid standards helps lower operational risks of new grid-connected technologies. For customers and manufacturers, this helps to ensure the functionality of their grid-connected products. For grid operators and aggregators, this helps prevent procurement errors that could compromise reliability, security and compatibility.

Steering the Industry Towards Interoperability
Developing interoperability profiles allows for conformance testing on specific standards-based functionality and desired outcomes utilizing smart grid standards.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published Technical Note 2042 that reviewed 240 current smart grid standards, dating back to 2010. Of these standards, NIST concludes that while an overwhelming portion (70% or 169) relate to interoperability, only 1 in 5 of those associated standards contains independent testing and certification programs to test for interoperability performance.

SEPA recently released a user-friendly Catalog of Test Programs, to provide a consolidated listing of smart grid standards that have available or certified conformance testing from independent test labs and providers. To view the full directory, visit

The good news — providing a set of solutions does not need to be complicated.

NIST and the SEPA Testing and Certification Working Group (TCWG) have established an Interoperability Profiles Task Force. Through this Task Force, electric utilities, vendor communities and testing providers are convening to develop interoperability profiles.

The task force is developing an interoperability profile for EV fleet charging management. The resulting requirements will not only define what tasks the utility systems and chargepoint interfaces should perform, but also how and with which other systems they may need to communicate.

When there is a Collective Will, there is a Collaborative Way
Collaborative development of the interoperability profiles provides two advantages:

First, the profiles help manufacturers ensure their products are ready for successful integration. In the case of EV managed charging, multiple standards exist that can enable successful chargepoint and utility communication.

For example, standards that inform EV charging stations include: IEC 63110; IEEE 2030.5; IEEE 2690; ISO/IEC 15118; OpenADR 2.0; and OCPP 2.0.

Each standard has advantages and disadvantages, imposes different limits, and enables different capabilities and configurations. With an expected 9.6 million charging stations needed by 2030, the industry needs to collaborate to define the needed interoperability and functionality requirements.

The second advantage of this collaborative approach is the opportunity to build and scale conformance tests using these interoperability profiles. Instead of testing a single device’s conformance to a standard, a test lab can test the functionality of a group of interacting devices against a set of specified configurations.

Using the charging station example above, this would entail testing the Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) not only for IEEE 2030.5 compliance, but also testing the ability of the EVSE to interact with, among others, a building energy management system, a distribution management system, and a customer management system.

Get Involved
Many more technologies can benefit from this collaborative and consumer-focused approach. If you are wondering whether your favorite technology standard could be a candidate for an interoperability profile, come join the conversation with others in the Interoperability Profiles Task Force.

For more information on how to get involved or receive additional resources on the SEPA Testing and Certification Working Group, contact us at [email protected].