Mark Ossel


Interview with Mark Ossel, Board Member, Open Smart Grid Protocol Alliance (OSGP Alliance) and Vice President NES Corporation.

At the upcoming African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa, Mark will moderate the session on “Moving towards smarter grid solutions” as well as joining the panel discussion “Understanding the effect of an open communication rate of smart metering across the content” during the Smart Energy conference programme.

What do you think is the future of open standards for smart metering rollouts?
The focus will be on interoperability. This is not just interoperability of meters, but also technologies, systems, data and standards. There are various open standards for communications, but it is becoming increasingly important to have interoperability between systems and the data provided from smart metering systems. This is why it will be critical to offer interoperability and interfaces between standards (i.e. OSGP, DLMS, and CIM). In addition, it is important to consider the continuing evolution of communication technologies. This will require the ability to mix and match various technologies, with different protocols. OSGP was developed having in mind the ability to provide interoperability independent of the physical layer. This enables that a utility, which may have reasons to mix PLC with LTE-M, to optimise the cost of communication, installation and availability when selecting technologies for their system.

What is your view related to the Open Smart Grid Protocol (OSGP) and how it can promote and advance the capabilities of innovative solutions for utilities?
OSGP provides a highly reliable and interoperable communications solution upon which smart grids and smart cities rely upon. OSGP solutions have been deployed into a wide range of environments and have been proven to support communications for very stringent SLAs. Furthermore, the security offered by OSGP is best in class and allows DSOs to deploy their smart grid with confidence that they are maximising the protection they can achieve against cybersecurity.

Interoperability is critically important, and the existing OSGP deployments have proven that meters from different vendors can co-exist and can be managed through the same head-end and operational efficiency solutions. With OSGP, interoperability means operational simplifications and efficiency!

The energy transition, moving to decentralisation of the electricity grid, increases the need for proper insight of energy flows within the low voltage (LV) grid. OSGP has been proven to efficiently deliver 15-minute load profile interval data, power quality reports, and integration with home energy networks with daily performance of between 99.8 and 100% for all meters. This reliability of communications is an enabler for innovation because (1) it allows information from the LV grid to play more of a role in business decisions and optimization, (2) it allows more dynamic control of supply and (3) it allows more reliable remote change of configurations (i.e. tariffs and settings) and firmware upgrades to enable innovation. This allows DSOs to confidently upgrade many hundreds of thousands of smart meters in order to comply with regulatory changes and other market drivers.

Many countries are still focused on providing electrification throughout their country. How does the Open Smart Grid Protocol (OSGP) support electrification?
Perhaps the single most important aspect of a country’s development is its energy infrastructure, which impacts all critical functions within cities and towns. It is imperative to extend the grid to large regions where there currently is no access to electricity. A Smart Grid is the required long term solution for sustainable, resilient and affordable energy infrastructure, and should be a key component of any electrification program. Countries, which have significant areas without electricity, can make a major step forward to build decentralised grid, since there are no high voltage (HV) lines. In this situation, it is advantageous and makes sense to move forward using technology and protocol developed for decentralised grids.

When designing a smart grid architecture, many utilities select OSGP as the platform for their smart grid. The Open Smart Grid Protocol (OSGP) is targeted at utilities that want a multi-application Smart Grid infrastructure instead of a meter centric infrastructure. OSGP is not just applicable for meters; it’s for a variety of smart grid devices. OSGP provides the basic infrastructure to enable insight into the LV network within a city to better manage electricity network.

Smart Grids are modern intelligent, communicating power networks that are the future of smart cities and the energy sector as they have the tremendous potential to improve the quality of power and make energy sources reliable through demand response and comprehensive monitoring capabilities. Through the intelligent use of digital technologies and innovative application, smart grids contribute to the promotion and use of renewable energy generation and the development of zero-energy buildings and green communities. Green Energy, such as solar, wind, etc., is necessary to meet today’s critical environmental objectives and for the good of the people and their communities.

Smart Grids enable energy conservation and green energy programmes by providing DSOs and their customers more control over energy consumption and production. Also, Smart Grids help monitor and reduce system losses that ultimately leads to lower energy costs for customers. In addition, Smart Grids help to improve the monitoring and reliability of electricity network leading to a significant reduction of brown and blackouts, and the enhanced, reliable flow of energy results in improved health and safety for customers, including improved capabilities for hospitals, schools and businesses. Finally, reduction of fraud, through automated meter-to-revenue processes, leads to a more equitable share of the world's energy.

Do you see any similarities between the operational tools needed to efficiently manage a network for the telecommunication industry and utility industry?
Telecom networks share many characteristics with smart grids – remote intelligent field-equipment, interconnected, software enabled, dependent on distribution infrastructure, with end-points of increasing sophistication and flexibility, deployed with residential, business/commercial and amenity consumers. Not only is a modern telecom network like the vision for the smart grid of the future, but the telecommunications industry also went through a similar transition from essentially passive and dumb infrastructure with manual operational processes centered on fault recovery, to the modern self-healing, automated and resilient networks we see today.

For the Smart Grid, it all starts with intelligent devices in the field. DSOs need to select a Smart Grid solution provider that gives them visibility of the infrastructure, the consumer’s service, the ability to control the service and the flexibility to adapt through software and firmware configuration. Focus on the parts of the infrastructure where visibility is hardest to achieve, such as the low-voltage grid, because these are the areas where change is coming fastest and will require agility to respond through remotely configurable devices. The network operational tools must focus on the back-end systems which support the operational processes. Following the approach of the telecom industry, the solution needs to create a new layer of capability – the Operational Support System, but for the Smart Grid. The key point is that its sole focus is to implement efficient operational processes so that:

• The business benefits associated with the smart grid deployment can be realised.

• The optimal configuration and thus operational processes of the smart grid can be changed depending on the prevailing market and technology pressures.

• The efficiencies of scale for the operational expense can be achieved.

Leading participants of the smart grid industry are starting to develop Operational Support Systems (OSS) for the Smart Grid, and one member of the OSGP Alliance is offering an OSS solution, Grid Operations, that provides these capabilities.

Security, including preventing and identifying cyber attacks, is one of the critical issues faced by utilities. How does OSGP work to solve these challenges?
Smart Grids, Smart Metering and other automated systems have introduced a new security threat unfamiliar to distribution grid operators. This is why security is a key feature of OSGP and OSGP based solution architecture has been purpose-built with end-to-end security in mind. Multi-layer security is an integral part of the system architecture, and both authentication and encryption are mandatory for all network communications. OSGP security is always on and fully enabled by default and cannot be removed like other solutions that sometime turn off security to improve performance. This eliminates the risk of misconfiguration and mitigates a whole class of attacks that aim to disable or subvert security mechanisms. This is critical to protect the privacy of customer information and ensure data integrity. In addition, the system is designed to have the head room required and mechanisms in place for new or updated algorithms, and the network and its devices can be remotely upgraded to improve the security in the system to ensure OSGP based systems remain best-in-class security solution.

In addition, software applications, such as Grid Watch, allow utilities to augment their already robust OSGP based smart meter security infrastructure by adding detection and response capabilities to their established protection layers. It allows utilities to identify changes in the threat-level, adapt their posture accordingly, spot a developing attack, identify points of penetration, quickly initiate responses to blunt the attack and start to offer credible deterrents to the cyber-criminal. Functionality, such as intrusion detection, will become increasingly important as unauthorised individuals attempt to gain access to devices and data.

There have been a lot of market discussion regarding smart grid applications. Does OSGP offer any applications and what are the benefits from them?
OSGP smart meters provide extensive visibility of power and voltage quality at the substation transformer and the consumer, and OSGP based smart grid solutions provide visibility of the low-voltage grid topology and connectivity and can create measurements from within the low-voltage grid. With the availability of information from the low-voltage grid, OSGP is able to offer software solutions that process and analyze this information providing timely actionable insight about the electricity network. This insight can be used to improve operational processes and can also have a positive impact on the quality of service that the end consumer receives. There are OSGP smart grid applications that provide the topology of the low-voltage grid, improve power quality, assist with load forecasting, detect security breaches, and improve the overall efficiency and reliability of the grid.