OPC UA - On the Road to the Smart Grid

Jan. 28, 2010
New Standards Help Achieve Interoperability Among Devices and Systems
By Eric Murphy, columnist

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently issued an initial list of standards and other elements needed to support an interoperable smart grid. The NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 1.0, concentrates on standards that will help achieve interoperability among devices and systems. OPC Unified Architecture (UA) is one of the few non-industry-specific standards to make the list.

It's All about Interoperability

There are many views on the Smart Grid - - but the one thing everyone agrees on is the importance of interoperability. The ability of diverse systems and their components to work together is vitally important to the performance of the Smart Grid at every level.

Effective interoperability is built on a unifying framework of interfaces, protocols and the other standards. Widely adopted standards also will help utilities to manage varying supplies of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources and better respond to changing demand. Since the Smart Grid is almost entirely owned and operated by industry, the interoperability standards used must reflect industry consensus, much like the collaboration initiatives of OPC UA. These standards, together with active participation and coordination, can lead to a successful solution.

OPC UA -- Interoperability Defined

The purpose of OPC UA was to enable a platform-independent interoperability standard for moving data and information between the all levels of the enterprise, regardless of industry. The resulting OPC UA specifications are well-positioned to provide interoperability beyond industrial automation, including key smart grid segments such as building automation, security, home automation, power generation and transmission. Because of the highly scalable architecture of OPC UA, it is also well-positioned for deployment in intelligent embedded devices.

OPC UA is built on the premise of 'do not reinvent technology that already exists' and demonstrates this through collaborative efforts with other standards organizations. OPC UA pulls all the necessary pieces together for true secure, reliable interoperability, which is vital to the implementation of the Smart Grid.

Many Standards, One Grid

The Smart Grid represents a vast array of technologies. It is an intelligent future electricity system that connects all supply, grid and demand elements through an intelligent communication system. The ability of utilities to create ubiquitous connectivity between all of their current data sources and decision-making points, including homes and businesses, is critical to the success of smart grid. OPC UA's rich and flexible information model is well-designed to meet that demand. OPC UA is well- suited to integrate different segment standards with OPC Servers for BACnet, DNP, IEC60870 and IEC61850. In addition, OPC UA provides standardized interoperability to other standards that are not on the smart grid list, yet are common in the telemetry, industrial and building spaces, such as Johnson Controls, Modbus and SNMP. Clearly OPC UA is well-positioned to help tie the 'interoperable grid' together.

OPC UA -- Future Ready

While the task of recommending standards may appear simple, it is actually requires significant effort to ensure that the chosen standards are tailored to the industry they are meant to serve, and have sufficient vendor support to encourage a market of compatible products. In an effort to engage the Smart Grid stakeholder community and to coordinate work within the community to work towards the goal of interoperability, NIST has coordinated the formation of Domain Expert Working Groups (DEWGs). The DEWG members are subject matter experts representing a range of stakeholders including utilities, vendors, academia, industry and trade organizations, standards groups and federal agencies. The working group most relevant to OPC UA is the Industry-to-Grid (I2G) collaboration. Committed OPC UA vendors are working with other stakeholders to define, recommend, develop, maintain, test and support the suite of standards that will provide the secure, reliable infrastructure upon which to build tomorrow’s smart energy grid.