Navigant Research Blog

MESA Standards Aim to Organize a Diverse Market

— December 15, 2016

IT InfrastructureLast month, the MESA Standards Alliance officially released the first draft of a protocol for communications standards between utility control centers and energy storage systems (ESSs). This marks an important development for the ESS industry given the relative lack of existing standards and the increasingly diverse range of products in the market. Founded in 2014, the MESA Alliance is an organization of industry groups including both product vendors and utilities working to accelerate the growth of the ESS industry. MESA is developing open, non-proprietary specifications and standards for multiple types of ESSs.

Compared with the broader energy industry, standards for ESS components and software have barely begun to develop. Yet there is a clear need for standardization. Many vendors and other stakeholders in the industry cite the diverse operational characteristics of ESS components and the differing utility interconnection protocols as barriers to growth and cost reductions. There are basic standards currently in place covering ESS design and the integration of systems into the grid, and efforts are underway to update these protocols or supplement them with more in-depth standards. To date, the main standards for ESS come from the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), most notably the group’s TC 120 standards. However, these standards are more high-level and cover aspects such as defining unit parameters, testing methods, environmental issues, and system safety.

MESA Standards

MESA’s protocols are among the most comprehensive standards in the industry, aiming to accelerate the market through greater system interoperability, scalability, safety, quality, and affordability. A key focus for the grid is on standardizing communications between components within an ESS and between a system and the grid. This type of standardization can give customers more choice in the market and reduce project-specific engineering costs. These standards will also hopefully reduce training costs and improve safety for field staff through uniform procedures for safety and efficiency. The two primary segments of MESA standards are:

  • MESA-Device: Addresses system design for the components of an ESS, including the storage medium (batteries), inverters/power electronics, and meters
  • MESA-ESS: Specifies how an ESS communicates with the utility’s grid control and power scheduling systems (and is built on the DNP3 protocol)

The recently published draft protocol is for MESA-ESS and primarily addresses ESS configuration management, ESS operational states, and the applicable ESS functions. MESA hopes that these standards will enable electric utilities and grid operates to more effectively deploy and manage ESSs—including fleets of multi-vendor systems—to meet various needs with minimal custom design or engineering.

As the ESS industry has matured, software and controls platforms that communicate with grid systems are emerging as key to the technology’s value. However, there are a growing number of software platforms available, each with differing characteristics. Navigant Research’s new Energy Storage Software: Aggregation, Asset Management, and Grid Services report explores these platforms in detail. More open and official standards in the industry could result in greater interoperability between the various platforms, thus enabling greater customer choice. These developments can allow technology suppliers to focus on their core competencies and will hopefully lead to more rapid cost reductions and innovations.


The IoT Gets a Model (and Perhaps the Needed Catalyst for Market Growth)

— August 25, 2016

CodeWith little fanfare, the first Internet of Things (IoT) model I am aware of has been published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the folks who set the standards for smart grid interoperability in recent years. This new model is an important step in defining exactly what the IoT is and outlining the necessary security standards that go along with it. Could this be the catalyst needed to help drive the emerging IoT market? It sure doesn’t hurt.

Up until now, there has been a vacuum of standards and uncertainty around the buzzy IoT. The new model, called Network of Things (NoT), was created by Jeff Voas, a NIST computer scientist, and was announced in late July. Voas based the model on a traditional idea of distributed computing. It should be noted that the model uses two acronyms—IoT and NoT—extensively and interchangeably, and the relationship between the two is subtle, according to the published document.

The NoT model features four fundamental elements: sensing, computing, communication, and actuation. The model goes on to describe five primitives, or building blocks, which are:

  • Sensor: An electronic utility that measures physical properties such as temperature, acceleration, weight, sound, location, presence, identity, etc.
  • Aggregator: A software implementation based on a mathematical function(s) that transforms groups of raw data into intermediate, aggregated data.
  • Communication channel: A medium by which data is transmitted (e.g., physical via USB, wireless, wired, verbal, etc.).
  • External Utility (eUtility): A software or hardware product or service. The current definition of an eUtility is deliberately broad to allow for unforeseen future services and products that will be incorporated in future types of NoTs yet to be defined.
  • Decision trigger: A trigger that creates the final result(s) needed to satisfy the purpose, specification, and requirements of a specific NoT.

The model describes more technical aspects of the IoT/NoT, and anyone who is working on the engineering end of this trend should study the details. To the less technical, the model might appear too abstract. Nonetheless, having some basic building blocks delineated does everyone a service by establishing standards that can be employed, particularly for security and interoperability reasons.

NoT Model Primitives

NIST IoT(Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology)

The NIST model is a strong first step in creating an easy-to-grasp IoT framework. It might appear simple at first to some, but it also has a certain elegance in that simplicity. Given its lack of complexity or specificity, it is more likely to gain wider acceptance for further development by stakeholders, since it sets a relatively clean starting point on which to iterate as the technologies and market mature. In fact, Voas encourages others to build upon his foundational model, even as he and his colleagues continue to explore reliability and security issues going forward. Members of the Navigant Research team will join industry experts from Silver Spring Networks and Lynxspring to explore key facets of emerging IoT technologies and the security and interoperability issues surrounding the IoT market in an upcoming webinar.


The Upside of Efficiency Standards

— January 29, 2016

Network switch and UTP ethernet cablesAppliance efficiency standards generate little excitement for most of us. We expect appliances to operate efficiently, and we expect the latest versions we purchase to take advantage of the newest and most efficient technologies. But we don’t give it much thought beyond that.

It’s not that simple, of course. In the United States, there is a standardization process involving U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officials, appliance manufacturers, utilities, distributors, efficiency advocates, and contractors. The latest milestone in that process comes courtesy of the Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee (ASRAC), which recently approved a set of recommended standards for residential central air conditioning (AC) and heat pump efficiency levels.

Some key parts of the latest standards approved by ASRAC and developed by a DOE-sponsored working group include:

  • Effective January 1, 2023, standards are to achieve at least 7% savings—changes to the test method and equipment rating need to increase savings beyond the nominal change in Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio value.
  • Expected savings of about 300 million kWh over 30 years of sales, which is approximately as much power as is used by 27 million households in a year.
  • Based on current electricity prices, the value of these savings is expected to total about $38 billion in utility bill savings.

It should be noted that some 60% of U.S. homes have a central cooling system, and approximately 19% of these systems are heat pumps. In addition, nearly all new homes are built with central AC.

Some Background

These latest standards have a legacy dating back to 2006, when major improvements in AC and heat pump efficiency took effect, and also from a set of consensus standards from 2011, which took effect last year. According to experts, these combined three rounds of improved standards—those effective in 2006 and 2015 and the upcoming set in 2023—are expected to raise central AC and heat pump efficiency by some 50% in less than 20 years.

Standards may be somewhat dull, and some stakeholders may think the latest ones don’t go far enough. But standards like those mentioned above can have a lasting and broad beneficial effect when it comes to greater efficiency and reducing pollution. The next time the AC or heat pump kicks on, you can thank the organizations responsible for taking the long view in setting and maintaining standards that benefit us all.


Google Enters IoT World, Again

— June 18, 2015

The Internet of Things (IoT)—a much hyped, though somewhat ambiguous, concept about interconnecting devices to create a system of systems for user convenience and detailed in Navigant Research’s IoT (Internet of Things) for Residential Customers report—is not a new concept.

For years, IoT products have been available to consumers, including smart thermostats, smart meters, connected LED bulbs, and more. Today, the IoT is being implemented by big names like AT&T, ADT, and Apple. Finally, one of the largest and most well-known multinational technology companies in the world is joining the race—Google.

In late May, Google unveiled its new IoT platform, Brillo, at the company’s annual developer event, Google I/O. Brillo is an operating system that manages connected devices, streamlined specifically for use in objects other than smartphones and tablets, which allows the user to create a true IoT smart home.

Brillo is based on Google’s existing Android operating system, which is important for integration with already existing Google technologies, like Google Now voice recognition. Brillo will be paired with Google’s newly created IoT language called Weave. Weave is a communications layer, enabling devices to talk with each other, the cloud, and Android-based smartphones. Google will make Brillo available to developers in 3Q 2015.

The Second Attempt

Brillo is not Google’s first attempt at entering the IoT world. In 2011, Google introduced Android@Home, a service designed to turn the user’s home into a network of Android accessories, using Android as the home’s operating system. Similar to Brillo, Android@Home was announced at a Google annual developer event 4 years ago. However, the Android@Home concept disappeared almost as quickly as it was introduced. Today, the digital landscape is much different, and consumers and developers more readily accept the concept of a connected lifestyle.

With a vast expanse of competition for creating interoperability in devices, it is unclear how Google’s Brillo and Weave will fair. Google has the kind of brand-name recognition that could turn this small, new concept into something very big—the kind of big that exists in nearly every home in America. The fact that Google is leveraging its Android platform also means immediate scalability, so many device manufacturers can use Brillo.

Challenges Ahead

However, there are already standard, protocol, and communication layers out there, and it is unclear how Brillo will interact with these. Take, for example, ZigBee. ZigBee is a communications standard operating on IEEE 802.15.4 that has been around for over a decade. ZigBee already exists in millions of connected products, such as sensors and lights, and the next version (ZigBee 3.0, set to be released in 4Q 2015) is designed to unify and make an entire system of connected devices easier to use. This means that consumers may end up with Brillo/Weave devices and ZigBee devices that cannot communicate—a problem that will likely take some time to resolve. Regardless, Google and its entry into the IoT world is something to keep an eye on for years to come.


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