The history of the energy industry in North America has been one largely of self-regulation when it comes to interoperability standards. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) formed the GridWise Architecture Council (GWAC) in 2004 to articulate interoperability concepts and facilitate the interoperation of smart grid technologies. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) gave the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) the primary responsibility to coordinate a framework that includes protocols and standards to achieve interoperability of smart grid devices and systems. With standards efforts still under development, grid operators must do what they can to reduce any potential for outages, deliver high quality power to consumers even with changing variations in the availability of power plants and lines or uncontrolled events such as storms and load fluctuations.
A power system’s dependability depends on reliable and fault tolerant equipment and devices. If there is ever a failure, the systems have a backup. It helps if the systems’ performance can be optimized. All works smoothly when the data regarding the system conditions are predictable and accurate.
Grid operators look to standards as a way to help provide connectivity among their systems and devices. Reliability comes when they are able to work together easily and effectively by design. This means seamless interoperability will be achieved between hardware, software and all critical equipment that impact the coordination of energy flows with real time flows of data and analysis.
The key advantage of interoperability is that it can affect reliability and greatly reduce outages because of better monitoring, control, analysis and system management. It allows for rapid service restoration following an outage because the data about the outage location and causes can be given in real time. Establishing more Interoperability promotes better resource adequacy because it can enable better integration of diverse supply and demand-side resources as well as the substitution of demand-side reductions for supply resources.
Today there are several committees like NERC and the Energy Storage Association trade group, the Mesa Alliance and the SunSpec Alliance that have formed to help speed the adoption of standards. The SunSpec Alliance, which comprises over 70 solar and storage distributed energy industry participants, has been pursuing information standards to enable “plug & play” system interoperability.
Plug & play helps to address connectivity challenges, providing reusable integrations and has helped the industry in collaborating and forming partnerships to assure that their systems work together cohesively. Soon we hope to see that establishing standards will address operational aspects of solar PV power and energy storage plants on the smart grid—including residential, commercial, and utility-scale systems—thus reducing cost, promoting technology innovation, and accelerating industry growth.
The goal is to accelerate the growth of the distributed energy industry and expand the market for renewable power by specifying de facto standards — information models, data formats, communication protocols, system interfaces, best practices and other artifacts — that enable solar PV and energy storage Distributed Energy power plants to interoperate transparently with system components, software applications, financial systems, and the Smart Grid.
As a member of the SunSpec Alliance, we have come to understand the need for supporting standards and thus created a plug & play Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) for PV plant and fleet monitoring. Using software that electronically queries the network for SunSpec compliant equipment, the SCADA is able to identify the model of equipment that is located at each node of the plant network. This is accomplished by virtue of the self-discovery design of SunSpec. The resulting information map is then used to automatically configure SCADA communications to point to relevant information on connected equipment such as inverters, meters, weather stations and storage systems.
Within the SCADA, XML-based smart generator technology is used to import the SunSpec scan and create the communication objects and human machine interface (HMI) faceplates. The resulting core SCADA project enables monitoring and control of the plant equipment. The HMI is able to change set points and perform other operator commands. Trending, alarm generation and historical records of the state of the SunSpec compliant equipment are then selected by the SCADA designer who may expand on the HMI configuration as needed. For example, the SCADA designer may add a map display on the HMI to visualize Solar Fleet assets. The maps display up to date information with key metrics displayed live for each asset and summarized by area or plant.
Such standards enable scale efficiency, plug & play interoperability, cost and risk reduction, and long-term operational continuity for manufacturers, integrators, plant owners and operators, financiers, utilities, and consumers. By incorporating SunSpec in PV farm monitoring, there usually can be a major reduction of the cost of deployment of the solar SCADA and the elimination of human-induced errors when compared to traditional, manually configured SCADA. Additional upgrades or expansion of the solar plant may be incorporated by simply rescanning the network, which is a major time saver and enhances reliability.