The Evolution of the Smart Grid | Communication Standardization


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The electric utility industry is currently undergoing the greatest period of transformation in its history. Utilities are facing new challenges, and these challenges present opportunities for them to reevaluate business processes that have remained unchanged for decades. This blog series delves into six of what we consider to be the most impactful challenges, dissects them, and hypothesizes how they will shape the future of the utility industry. This blog post explores how information exchange standards such as MultiSpeak and Customer Information Model have reduced the total cost of ownership of many of the applications utilities require to reliably serve their customers.

  • Communication standardization.

The written Chinese language has a unique history. Back when China was divided into 7 warring states, each state had its own written language. Emperor Qin Shi Huang not only united these warring kingdoms into a single nation, but also unified the written Chinese language into a single, standardized script. This standardization of the Chinese language would bind and enable the Chinese to maintain their culture and national identity for thousands of years to come.

The standardization of utility specifications of information exchange between vendors such as original equipment manufacturers, third party service providers etc. and their utility customers is an equally interesting story. To understand the need for standardization, we need to look at how these standards evolved in the first place. In the past, smaller utilities like electrical cooperatives had few or no I.T. staff. This led to a high premium being placed on interoperability, as the utilities did not have resources to build custom interfaces for each integration point.

With the advent of the smart grid, such interfaces grew both in number and in complexity, and having custom interfaces for every integration point became cost prohibitive, even for larger utilities. Support for newer security guidelines as outlined by organizations such as the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) also provided a higher impetus for interoperability between equipment manufacturers and service providers for utilities.

Out of this situation arose utility standards such as MultiSpeak, and Common Information Model (CIM.) These standards can be effectively deployed as part of an enterprise service bus architecture, and software vendors, original equipment manufacturers, and utilities alike can standardize their interfaces to meet these standards.

The benefits for utilities are numerous, the most obvious being the monetary benefit of reducing the cost of supporting the myriad interfaces today’s utilities require. Current standards are without any major limitations on customization, but have no need to do so in most implementations. This focus on interoperability has reduced implementation times for software installations and reduced personnel required to support these interfaces, all without limiting customization to meet specialized needs of a utility of any size.

Compliance to security standards is easier to meet, since most messaging standards will meet compliance requirements set by organizations such as NERC. This is beneficial both as a cost-effective measure and as a precaution against security loopholes. If interoperability is encouraged, it helps vendors and utilities alike to observe and report potential risks and helps make standards more robust and secure.

Let us now look at the two most commonly used utility standards for information exchange: MultiSpeak and CIM.

The MultiSpeak standard is a result of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) working with a small group of software and equipment vendors who developed products for U.S. electric cooperatives. Over time, it grew in coverage, capability, sophistication, and membership.

The Common Information Model (CIM) came about from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers’ efforts to define standards and develop recommendations for energy management systems of the future. While MultiSpeak is primarily focused on the needs of electric cooperatives in the US, CIM was designed to meet the needs of all utilities, including investor-owned utilities and utilities in the international market. While MultiSpeak only covers distribution, CIM covers the transmission, generation, and distribution needs of a utility. While the CIM standard is transport-independent, Multispeak was designed with internet-related standards of SOAP over TCP/IP and HTTP.

With the advent of these standards, interoperability between different software vendors has increased. This has led to wide adoption of these standards across different areas of the utility space. These standards have reduced total cost of ownership for many of these applications and equipment, which in turn has led to high levels of digitization. This in turn has revolutionized the electric grid, enabling it to enter the era of the Internet of Things. While estimating the exact value of a widely adopted standard to a digitization drive of the scale of the smart grid may be beyond the scope of this post, it’s safe to say achievement of such wide levels of adoption of the smart grid might not have been possible were it not for standards like MultiSpeak and CIM, which have enabled utilities to enter the world of information technology and digitization at their pace, while achieving hitherto unknown levels of interconnectedness between various services and devices.


Red Clay is a MultiSpeak Participating Vendor. For information on how we can help your utility optimize operations, please visit Services or contact


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About the Author

As a senior consultant for Red Clay ConsultingAnkit Malik works primarily in analysis of software functionality and client requirements, designing a complete solution, leading teams performing the configuration or custom development required to meet requirements, leading testing efforts including unit, string and migration testing, and delivery support. Ankit offers a strong background of C and C++ programming, as well as significant experience in XML, XPath, and many other scripting languages. Ankit has worked with SOAP, AJAX, and is knowledgeable in web services. He is also experienced in middleware architecture and technologies, including BPEL and Oracle SOA Suite, and has worked extensively with two-way device communications.