The Overlooked Standard That Could Unlock New Benefits


By: Guest Editorial


Dr. Dale McMullin


When dividing the Smart Grid into categories of interest (demand response, distribution optimization, transmission management, etc.) a new demand for spatial information has emerged. This is due in part to the large-scale, distributed nature of the problems being solved. Users of advanced applications need quick references to areas of interest in order to conduct more robust (spatial) searches, and tie critical asset definitions to operational workflows. This requires a largely unexplored tie between the GIS and advanced Smart Grid software. Because of the mix of legacy systems and emerging modules in distributed environments, using standards is key to a successful integration and interoperability strategy. Consequently, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) may play a key role by working with other standards organizations to ensure that the Smart Grid standards framework includes a single set of standards for geospatial interfaces and encodings.


Breaking the Smart Grid into categories or "blocks” helps to focus problem statements.  In some ways, a spatial categorization parallels the standard market categorization of grid technologies and operations.  Starting from the point of generation in the power plant, power flows from a transmission (high voltage) network to a distribution (low voltage) network, and into the home or business.  It is no coincidence that generation, transmission, and distribution are the accepted market divisions of the power grid.  The physical divider between generation and transmission is the switchyard, and the divider between transmission and distribution networks is the distribution substation.  The "gateway” into the home is the meter.  Each market has its own regulations, systems, and system operators.  Many utilities have started to use these network definitions, defined within the GIS as a basis for network state and operations.  For more information on standardizing the Smart Grid, visit the NIST website.


When considering the divisions of interest described above, interoperability between Smart Grid spatial resources is apparent and non-trivial.  Today each of the referenced organizations maintains legacy systems to manage and operate their networks.  Traditionally, transmission operators utilize Energy Management Systems (EMS), distribution operations leverage Distribution Management Systems (DMS), and distribution dispatchers utilize Outage Management Systems (OMS).  Until very recently, few industry drivers existed for these systems to share information.  Each area had its responsibilities surrounding power grid monitoring and control.  SCADA was (and still is) the clutch of successful grid management.  Today to meet the pressing goals of improved efficiency and reliability, these systems need to communicate events and share network state data.  Systems that are operating devices through automation and workflow management need access to a network state.  In many cases, the GIS system will be used as the basis for the expected or "normal state” of the network.  To drive interoperability between systems, the industry is largely focused on IEC and IEEE standards such as 61968 and 61850, which support the definition(s) of power distribution technologies.  However the spatial information is not standardized.  This is where spatial standards such as standards from the OGC could add value.


Wide Area Management Systems (WAMS) are one example where advanced operational activities depend on the standardized connection between GIS and operational systems.  WAMS allows operators to view a "snapshot” of power flow over a very large area.  This is accomplished by displaying operational synchrophasor data on a map using advanced vector and color gradient techniques.  The trained eye will spot issues very quickly, and potentially avoid catastrophic blackouts like the northeast blackout of 2003.  This requires, at a minimum, integration between the EMS, SCADA, GIS, a communications infrastructure, and field personnel.  Also, linking to workflow management systems helps maintenance departments to quickly locate and direct crews to problem areas. 


Smart Grid technologies need to interoperate, and the GIS is a critically important part of many advanced solution architectures.  Hopefully the WAMS example given here effectively illustrates just one area where spatial data adds value.  Driving spatial standards like OGC to interact with operational systems may ultimately reduce cost and provide significant customer value through Smart Grid solutions.


Dr. Dale McMullin is Principal Systems Architect, Smart Grid, GE Energy, EED Services Engineering. He can be reached at


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