November 2008

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Steve WidergrenEMAIL INTERVIEW  Steve Widergren & Ken Sinclair

Steve Widergren, Administrator GridWise Architecture Council

Steve Widergren is the Administrator for the GridWise Architecture Council, a group of 13 respected experts with the objective to improve the interoperation of all elements of the electric system.  This includes building and industrial automation, communications, electric utility automation, as well as the economic and regulatory environment in which they do business.  This group is supported by the United States Department of Energy through Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Smart Grid-Interopers Gather in Atlanta

On 11- 13 November 2008 in Atlanta the second Grid-Interop forum will bring stakeholders together to develop consensus on interoperability directions. 

Recall the scene in “Gone with the Wind” when Rhett Butler finally confronts Scarlett at their mansion outside Atlanta.  Today, these modern day Clark Gables stroll through their suburban Atlanta McMansions with all variety of automation at their disposal, and consider the cost of energy, its impact on the environment and global stability, then exclaim to their Maureen O’Haras, “Frankly Scarlett, I could give a Watt!”

If only there was an easy way for the automation systems in our energy consuming facilities to “connect” with electric system operations to coordinate their usage for mutual benefit.  Interoperability! is the rallying cry for alignment at technical, informational, and organizational (business and policy) levels that are required to achieve this connectivity.  The GridWise® Architecture Council (GWAC) was formed to advance interoperability of automation components throughout the electric system supply chain, and on 11- 13 November 2008 in Atlanta, they are convening the second Grid-Interop forum to bring all stakeholders together to develop consensus on interoperability directions.  We talked with Steve Widergren, Administrator of the GWAC, about the upcoming event.

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Sinclair:  What’s transpired since the initial Grid-Interop meeting a year ago?

Widergren:  Last year we brought together over 160 people to not only exchange perspectives, concepts, and challenges concerning interoperability, but also to discuss actionable steps to improve interoperability at the interfaces with industrial facilities, commercial buildings, residences, appliances and enterprise systems (see for meeting proceedings and more information).  From these breakout groups, the GWAC began thinking of forming teams to continue to tackle these issues.  Subsequently, the President signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).  This act gave NIST the directive to develop an interoperability framework to look at standards and protocols to enable smart grid applications.  Once a team was formed at NIST to address the EISA legislation, they began coordinating with GWAC and others to fulfill their mission.  A collaborative relationship between NIST and GWAC has resulted in the creation of several working groups along the lines addressed at Grid-Interop last year.  For this year’s meeting, NIST is bringing these groups together to interact with other interested stakeholders in a workshop to develop directions for an interoperability framework.  This includes Building to Grid, Home to Grid, Industrial to Grid, Transmission and Distribution, Business and Policy, and Cyber Security breakout sessions.

Sinclair:  In past conversations, you’ve talked about the Interoperability Context-setting Framework Interoperability Context-Setting Framework. Is NIST addressing something along these lines at the meeting?

Widergren:  Yes and no.  NIST is forming a process for identifying challenges and needs for developing or improving interface standards that support smart grid related capabilities.  This is a framework for getting the right experts and stakeholders together to understand the present situation and come up with plans to advance interoperability.  The result will coordinate efforts to advance existing standards, harmonize competing efforts, and initiate actions in new projects to address gaps.  These can be protocols, information models, methodologies, and tools.  In contrast, the Interoperability Context-setting Framework document puts forward a structure for looking at the various levels of alignment that need to be addressed to achieve interoperability and suggests terminology that those advancing interoperability can use to more clearly communicate concepts and directions.  It is not procedural.  In this regard, it can be a resource to complement and support the process that NIST is developing.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Sinclair:  Last year you brought together over 90 speakers who provided insights into smart grid integration issues and solution approaches.  What’s the line-up this year?

Widergren:  Smart grid concepts have gained favor over the past couple of years for addressing not just a more efficient and resilient electricity infrastructure, but also a flexible system that can integrate sustainable generation and storage technologies and put the nation in a position to support new technologies such as electric vehicles.  On the regulatory front, FERC and NARUC have created a coordination group call the Smart Grid Collaborative.  We are fortunate to have the co-chairs of this collaborative, FERC Commissioner Suedeen Kelly and New Jersey Commissioner and incoming NARUC Chairman Fred Butler, deliver keynotes presentations at Grid-Interop.  They will be joined by ISO New England Inc. President & CEO, Gordon van Welie, who will provide his insights on the importance of smart grid capabilities, including the growing integration of demand response resources in the New England system.  Besides the NIST workshop we have 15 panel sessions covering various interoperability concerns in architecture, technology, and business tracks.  The content and information exchange will rival the great sessions we had last year and including fascinating guest speakers during lunch and the meeting banquet.

Sinclair:  Sounds like three full days covering a lot of ground.  How can folks get involved?

Widergren:  Please visit to register and reserve your accommodations.  Now is the time to get involved in the various working groups and help shape the way automation systems will come together to deliver smart grid benefits to the economy and our families that depend so heavily upon electricity.


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