December 2010
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Interoperability. So, what’s in it for me?
  In terms of actual benefits, interoperability enables more devices to communicate, improved operational efficiency, and of course, a more level playing field for entrepreneurial minds to innovate and create a much larger potential market. 
 
Anto Budiardjo
President & CEO,
Clasma Events Inc.

Contributing Editor
Originally published
The Energy Collective


I
nteroperability. A word that means lots of things to lots of people and that is fundamental to the success of Smart Grid.  But it’s hard to get excited about it, unless of course, you’re part of the GridWise Architecture Council (GWAC), the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP), or just a nerd to the core.

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So … what is interoperability? It is the ability for a myriad of devices and systems – old and new – to talk to, and understand, each other. It is truly the Smart Grid lubricant. In terms of actual benefits, interoperability enables more devices to communicate, improved operational efficiency, and of course, a more level playing field for entrepreneurial minds to innovate and create a much larger potential market. 


Unfortunately, it is perhaps one of the hardest things to get businesses and vendors excited about. Why? Well, despite the fact that interoperability facilitates the “greater good” for all Smart Grid players, interoperable features often have little or no bearing on a product’s core function.

In fact, many vendors who serve the utility industry have gotten used to innovating under closed – or proprietary – ideologies. After all, if your system is closed, you only have to play by your own rules, you innovate based on your own set of standards, and if you are successful, you’re likely to get repeat customers. The risk to this approach is high, as there is a good chance that your technology will not be adopted and that the broader benefits sought by your customers cannot be delivered.

But, because a Smart Grid operates as layers of communications and information technology (IT), often over our existing or non-grid specific infrastructures, the closed systems of the past will no longer be the best approach. Devices will need to talk upstream, downstream, and cross-stream for the true benefits of Smart Grid to be realized – from renewable integration, to enhanced efficiency and reliability, to consumer empowerment.

The crash of the Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999 was a classic example of a lack of information interoperability between scientific metric and U.S. English measurement units. A crash for the “grid” could mean a brownout or a large-scale blackout, like what we saw in 2003 – with huge implications for our economy.

So, how do we communicate with, and excite, the Smart Grid industry about the potential of interoperability -- outside of our nerdy standards circle? We must start to talk in terms of benefits all stakeholders can understand.  The
Foundational Session at our upcoming Grid-Interop conference in Chicago will convene multiple stakeholder groups to discuss the benefits of interoperability for the many faces of Smart Grid. In my opinion, here’s the WIIFM (“what’s in it for me”) of Smart Grid interoperability for each of the following groups:

Smart Grid is how we connect all parts of the future energy system together to become the new smarter electricity grid, from generation to consuming devices – just like the Internet is the medium we use to connect people and ideas. If our grid can’t communicate without constant custom translations, we’ll never realize Smart Grid benefits for the environment, our economy, and society at large.

We hope to see you at
Grid-Interop in a couple of weeks, where it is our entire mission to bring the right people together and collaborate around the opportunities and challenges presented by interoperability. Only then can we accelerate Smart Grid – and ultimately, all of the benefits it will bestow upon us.

About the Author

Anto Budiardjo is President and CEO of Clasma Events, a global event company specializing in conferences at the center of the worldwide energy discussion. Focusing on Smart Grid, connectivity, and the new energy economy, Clasma’s major events include: ConnectivityWeek, GridWeek, and Grid-Interop. Anto can be reached at Anto@Clasma.com. Follow him on Twitter @AntoBud.

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