Two Issues that will Impede Interoperability
In developing and deploying Smart Grid ("SG") technologies we're consistently encountering two central testing issues surrounding Interoperability. Addressing and resolving these two issues will be critical, I believe, to ensuring the promise of interoperability become reality.
The first of these is a lack of industry-wide "Use Cases" associated with Interoperability. This is a problem because Interoperability clearly is an important key to actually unlocking the potential huge benefits provided by Smart Grid for the utility industry. Generally "Interoperability" offers the ability to combine core business and operational systems in new ways to create new beneficial insights into utility operations and the revenue cycle; and quite possibly provide entirely new management tools for the control and management of the utility.
For example when we talk about Interoperability, we frequently talk about a Storm Scenario example. In this we discuss how the SG system orchestrates data/sensor readings from OMS, SCADA, DA, AMI, MDMS, GIS, etc. to speed the recognition/definition of an outage, pinpoint the probable cause, define the solution, re-configure the system on-the-fly, and dispatch repair crews; all without a single customer call, or the time and expense of dispatching crews to try and find the outage source. The problem is that, right now, each time we begin to design how this is to be accomplished and how to test this (general) interoperability functionality we have to create the solution, associated use cases and test plans as custom packages.
A while back SCE created and shared the first widely available industry use cases for utilities that were addressing AMI. These use cases have since become the core standards for testing and change management. Perhaps it's time for the utility industry to consider an industry-wide effort to create Smart Grid Interoperability Use Cases as a guide to define core interoperability, testing and change management?
The second critical issue is associated with the inability to create working full-scale test environments to actually set-up and run end-to-end testing of Smart Grid systems. Historically utilities will experience a major system change-out once every 5 to 7 years. But with AMI/Smart Grid the pace of major system change-out has significantly accelerated. AMI alone has brought new major systems of Head-End and MDMS technologies. Additionally this has exposed material weaknesses in legacy systems including CIS/CRM, web-enablement, IVR, OMS, etc. and as S-G has become established within numerous operational systems.
AMI/Smart Grid single application and unit testing is an established process that can typically be addressed within the development/test environment of a utility implementing S-G. But almost no utility is equipped in any manner to set-up the complex Test Environments and Databases needed for end-to-end S-G systems. As a result utilities are quickly discovering that they don't really know how the completed system will work when turned-on. Thus they must take a leap of faith that the completed full-scale interconnected system probably works and know that they'll just have to learn on-the-fly about its characteristics and capabilities.
It seems to me that this is a problem that will require the combined efforts of many of the industry's leading AMI/SG technology firms and consulting organizations. I'll write more in my next Blog on how I suggest we address this as an industry.