Smart grid interoperability: We now have an answer (its initials are MQTT)



The Internet of Things (IoT) is the Next Big Thing in the technology world. Over here in the electric power industry, we sometimes forget that the smart grid is the first example of IoT at scale. In other words, we are IoT pioneers. With all the dangers and risks that implies.


One of the greatest dangers is that we will end up with a collection of incompatible "islands of innovation" that aren't truly interoperable. As you'll read below in this guest contribution from a member of the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, failure to achieve interoperability means much more than just inconvenience and extra work. It also affects our ability to achieve the security and privacy we need for the smart grid and the IoT to succeed.


But Geoff Brown didn't stop by just to list problems. He also has solutions that utilities can begin implementing right now. - Jesse Berst


By Geoff Brown


Machine-to-machine communications (M2M) and the Internet of Things (IoT) continue to be hot industry topics, as the amount of data available to utilities increases and smart grid technologies become more widely adopted.  


M2M and IoT are separate and complex entities, applying in different ways to various industries, companies and people. Let’s examine these topics through the lens of the smart grid, which encompasses smart homes, smart cities, renewables integration and electric vehicles, all of which incorporate M2M and IoT.


M2M allows devices and applications to communicate with each other over a network for monitoring and control purposes. The IoT, on the other hand, is multi-faceted and means different things to different people. For our purposes, the Internet serves as a connector for smart grid technologies across many verticals, and that connection is IoT. M2M enables IoT by providing the necessary connectivity.  


M2M and IoT at the heart of the smart grid

As a member of the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP), I can confirm that M2M and IoT remain at the heart of our interests as well. At SGIP’s inaugural conference held in November 2013 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., we discussed emerging issues related to these two topics such as security, privacy, interoperability and standards compliance.


Because M2M and IoT represent a massive expansion of and connectivity among technologies, they also raise major security and privacy concerns. Much of the existing security technology is not a perfect fit for M2M and IoT because of restraints like device size and scalability. Therefore, innovations in encryption, access, latency times, form factors and interoperability are critical.


To enable M2M and IoT securely, technologies must be able to work seamlessly together. Each time a device is added to the grid, it must be customized to fit with all the other existing devices. Interoperability is critical to ensure consistency among devices and increase the security and privacy of technologies.

The M2M and IoT protocol with possibly the most industry traction is the MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT). MQTT, which can be implemented at the data center, was designed to minimize network bandwidth and device resource requirements, while at the same time ensuring reliability and delivery. It also supports security. MQTT is the answer to the industry challenge of creating an interoperable ecosystem.


In April 2013, the world’s leading IT vendors came together to revise the MQTT specification and implement the new MQTT standard under OASIS’ open standards body. There are numerous MQTT-compatible protocols in existence, so interoperability with MQTT is crucial. This provides access to a large-scale, vibrant eco-system and a natural way to introduce new technology innovations at low cost. Currently, the OASIS MQTT specification has been published for peer review.


The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cyber Security Framework and NIST Cyber Critical Infrastructure are proposed standards that directly align with the M2M and IoT industry. OASIS has aligned with NIST’s Cyber Security standards to MQTT and thus attempts to provide structured guidance and use cases that are useful to the M2M and IoT industry.


With NIST’s support, there is increased security awareness and support.  This, coupled with a vibrant ecosystem enabled through interoperable protocols and standards provides M2M and IoT a solid foundation on which all smart grid stakeholders can build.  While we’re not at the end of the road, we’re making major progress in creating an interoperable smart grid that seamlessly integrates M2M and IoT.


Geoff Brown is the CEO and Founder of Machine-To-Machine Intelligence (M2Mi) Corporation, OASIS MQTT Secretary and OASIS MQTT Security Chair.


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