Six Organizations that Influence Grid Modernization

Take a look at influential organizations that are shaping the landscape of grid modernization, each in their own way.


In the past two blogs, I’ve outlined many reasons why the consulting-specifying engineer should be involved in the IEEE standards setting process. Today I’d like to point to a handful of other organizations that are shaping the landscape of grid modernization, each in their own way. Some of these organizations may be “sleepers” for the CSE readership – that is, they may be more influential than you suspect – which underscores why I should call attention to them.

For instance, as more equipment is being imported into the United States, that equipment might cite adherence to standards published by the IEC, the International Electrotechnical Commission. Those standards may impact design issues that affect environmental matters, communications, ratings, lifecycle analyses, etc. The CSE may have to determine whether IEC standards are good enough or whether he/she needs to insist on equipment that meets IEEE standards. To make that determination requires the CSE to be familiar with both sets of standards.

Another group impacting the CSE’s professional challenges is the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, or SGIP. Currently, the SGIP is transitioning from a government-hosted body (through NIST) to a private trade association. The SGIP doesn’t itself set standards, but it vets and catalogues standards that address interoperability. In areas such as communications, renewable resource integration, protocols and other elements that affect interoperability, the SGIP Catalog of Standards presents a centralized repository of documents created by various groups which have demonstrated an aspect of interoperability that is desirable in the industry. Many of the standards I’ve discussed in this blog are cited by the SGIP in this regard.

The SGIP doesn’t reconcile differences among standards – that’s the CSE’s responsibility when approaching substation design – but it does identify gaps in standards and addresses those through a series of Priority Action Plans, or PAPs. That is the mechanism for encouraging various SDOs (standard setting organizations) to address those gaps. For example, IEEE 1815 (DNP3) and 1815.1 (mapping IEC 61850 to IEEE 1815) were both the output of SGIP PAPs.

A number of traditional SDOs and organizations that the CSE is most likely familiar with include the National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association, or NEMA, whose scope includes many of the physical standards that have evolved in the design of a substation – insulator height, physical connections between apparatus, transformer standards, etc.

The National Electrical Code, or NEC, will, of course, come into play for customer-owned substations, which fall under the purview of local building commissions, which may be state-, county- or municipally based. That is, those jurisdictions may adopt NEC standards as established in various years. NEMA hosts a website that provides guidance on this point. The CSE really has to know local regulations. (We discussed related points in my prior blog, “Political and Regulatory Patchwork Governs Interconnection Policies.”)

The National Electric Safety Code, or NESC, frequently gets confused with the National Electric Code. The NESC deals largely with utility-related aspects of transmission and distribution facilities – such as clearances for wires, conductors and cables, the strength and loading of  towers, structures and poles, the spacing between conductors, and employer and employee safety. This too is adopted on a state-by-state basis. So the CSE needs to be aware of which version of the NESC governs the installation they’re working on.

For a CSE implementing IEC 61850, there’s the UCAIug, an offshoot of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), whose mission is to recommend conventions, solutions and techniques for interoperability within 61850. Challenges may arise for a CSE who’s trying to get two pieces of equipment from two different vendors to communicate over 61850 and finds that’s not working. The UCAIug is both a technical resource and an arbitrator of sorts, which helps to determine the correct approach to resolve such issues.

Finally, where the CSE is working on a substation that is going to tie-in bulk power (a transmission voltage-level system) from large, distributed generation resources there are rules set by NERC, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. One particular rule of note is the “NERC CIP,” Critical Infrastructure Protection requirements. The CSE might need to develop substation interfaces for a 200- or a 300-megawatt wind plant and NERC CIP requirements may come into play. The first source of information for the CSE would be talking to the utilities on their interconnection policy. (For more, see my prior blog, “Look Under the Hood: IEC 61850 for DER Interconnections.”)

Sam Sciacca is an active senior member in the IEEE and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in the area of utility automation. He has more than 25 years of experience in the domestic and international electrical utility industries. Sciacca serves as the chair of two IEEE working groups that focus on cyber security for electric utilities: the Substations Working Group C1 (P1686) and the Power System Relay Committee Working Group H13 (PC37.240). Sciacca also is president of SCS Consulting.

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