Industrial Internet Consortium Announces Microgrid Testbed

The group, which is working to advance industrial IoT deployments across sectors, is working with a number of utility providers to develop a responsive, reliable architecture for microgrids, which rely on networks of electricity sources.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 27, 2015

At a meeting yesterday to mark its one-year anniversary, the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), a member organization working to accelerate the deployment of industrial Internet of Things technologies, announced its second testbed program, and its first with a focus on the energy sector—specifically, for the design and operation of data systems to enable microgrids. The goal of the Communication and Control Testbed is to introduce the flexibility of real-time analytics and control, in order to provide a framework for quickly responding to demands for electricity, and for ensuring that the microgrid can make the most efficient use of its various power sources.

The conventional electrical grid is built on a centralized architecture that uses large-scale energy generation—generally from coal-burning plants or hydroelectric dams—feeding electricity into a massive transportation and distribution system. In order to ensure the availability of power wherever and whenever it is needed, electricity is regularly overproduced and wasted. Another downside of the conventional grid is that it does not easily accommodate energy from less extensive renewable sources, such as roof-top solar panels, small-scale wind turbine deployments or biomass power generators.

Stan Schneider
To make these renewable energy sources more readily available, many utilities around the world are developing microgrids, which are designed to accommodate and quickly switch to a variety of renewable energy sources, generated in neighborhoods or businesses. Because they rely on distributed energy generation, microgrids are also more resilient to power outages than main electrical grid service.

Microgrid operators must have visibility into the electrical generation of all the distributed sources to which they connect, and must be able to quickly and efficiently switch between these intermittent energy sources using real-time analytics. The testbed will evaluate how to replace the centralized control architecture used in conventional electrical grids with a more responsive and distributed data architecture for microgrids, says Stan Schneider, the CEO of Real Time Innovations (RTI) and a member of the consortium's IIC Steering Committee.

RTI, along National Instruments (NI) and Cisco, is leading the IIC testbed, known as the Communication and Control Testbed for Microgrid Applications. These firms are collaborating on the project with power utilities CPS Energy and Southern California Edison, as well as representatives from Duke Energy (which recently released a reference architecture for distributed grid operation) and the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP), an industry organization that is creating reference guides and developing standards for modernizing the electrical grid.

RTI will contribute to the testbed its machine-to-machine (M2M) middleware, which is built on the Data Distribution Service (DDS) standard, a means of data exchange that employs a common language to enable distributed systems used in any industry to send and receive data messages and commands. National Instruments, a provider of automated test equipment and virtual instrumentation software employed by wireless sensor networks, will host the first phase of the testbed, Schneider says, in which the system architecture will run through early software and hardware testing. Cisco is providing tools for networking and analytics.

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