Chattanooga's gigabit-per-second passive optical network (GPON) is a case in point. Last summer, the city showed its very high-speed system could limit outages under extreme circumstances (see “Smart Grid: It's All About Communications” on page 2). But, the city is not done yet. Indeed, it is thinking beyond outages and storm restoration.

In its next stage of smart grid development, the city will focus not only on integrating AMI data into the utility's OMS, as other utilities have done, but also on power quality. “More voltage control, more capacitor banks that help us with voltage stability and power factor — we're expanding our emphasis beyond outages to include efficiency of operation,” Glass said.

That corroborates what some industry observers are seeing. “Between the time federal stimulus money first became available and now, things have changed,” said Cisco's Gurela. Utilities are taking what he calls “a more mature focus on grid modernization” with real return on investment with respect to productivity, reliability, customer satisfaction and overall operational excellence as goals.

A Plug-and-Play Grid

That's certainly true in Massachusetts, where National Grid's smart grid pilot program has just gotten underway.

On the DA side, Chris Kelly, National Grid's utility of the future director, said the utility will be monitoring 11 distribution feeders and five distribution substations in the test area, which has a peak load of about 81 MW. “We'll be putting in four types of advanced distribution applications technology — 70 remote DA switches on the feeders, upgrades to station breakers and the energy management system, an advanced capacitor-control systems, and grid monitoring both on the feeder level and the primary and secondary transformer level,” said Kelly.

The utility also will work with Schweitzer Engineering Labs to test the ability to detect fault locations. “We'll take all the data from the fault indicators and the other new grid equipment back into our control center to pinpoint the exact location of the fault,” said Kelly.

The utility is taking a listen, test and learn approach to the pilot. “You have to set up the architecture end to end and test it under multiple scenarios,” said Kelly. “It's one thing we truly believe in. Every vendor will say they're plug and play, and that it will work, but until you really get it connected to the system end to end, from the grid device to the WiMAX, to the control center, you're finding inconsistencies that need addressing. We are in the process of testing the entire architecture, and it's really going to save us a lot of time during commissioning.”

Kelly does say that one of the reasons they chose the Cisco GridBlocks network is Cisco's philosophy of providing an open-standards-based router to join together the electrical grid with a digital communications network, which provides a platform for developing custom grid modernization applications. “More importantly,” he added, “it is the first true IPv6 environment providing more addressable, configurable capabilities with more robust security.”

Of course, communications standards enable interoperability, which in turn broadens the numbers and types of equipment options available to utilities. While 100% interoperability is probably impossible, there are reasons to be both pleased and frustrated with the current rate of standards development.