Looking Ahead: Resolving Overlapping Scopes

How do we best deal with these various individual groups that are growing and migrating into overlapping areas of interest?


One of the emerging challenges in the power industry is that different organizations’ scopes of work are bleeding over into each other. This will require resolution going forward.

For instance, when we talk about integrating wind power into the grid, the consulting-specifying engineer will find a multiplicity of relevant work taking place. Where to turn? There's interest in the specific IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) group that has a scope that covers wind turbines. The IEC group with the scope of system considerations is involved, at its end. The IEC group that's specifically addressing Smart Grid issues has a hand in this topic, as does the group involved with transmission and distribution systems.

This issue of “scope creep” isn’t confined to the IEC, I only use that organization as an example, to make my point. But the question arises within IEC, as I'm sure to some degree it happens in IEEE as well: "How do we best deal with these various individual groups that are growing and migrating into overlapping areas of interest?"

As a CSE, I can't really talk about how to make wind turbines work unless I talk about how to interface that wind turbine with the grid. I can't really talk about integrating renewable energy unless I talk about wind power. I can't talk about how to properly design and operate transmission and distribution systems unless I accommodate variable generation such as wind and solar. And I can't talk about transmission and distribution systems without getting into the specifics associated with bidirectional power flow, etc.

One can see the logic behind this tendency toward scope creep. But based on available resources alone, we can’t afford it. Every standards development organization (SDO) out there relies on the availability of individuals to work on these standards. Those resources are a precious commodity, and we can't afford to have two or three groups working on the same issue. Nor can we risk territorial or turf squabbles, because the issue is more complicated than simply duplicative efforts. What if two different groups end up working on the same problem, but arrive at two different answers?

The industry recognizes this problem, so that's a start. How we resolve it is far more difficult. Take the example of two groups, disparate or perhaps seemingly unrelated, which have followed their marching orders and somehow bled over into each other's territory. The situation calls for mediation. Now, SDOs have higher level functions designed to do that mediation but, like many organizations, there’s a healthy hesitancy to drive down solutions from above. That risks alienating the different groups, which are doing the bulk of the work. The solution is not to drive them into competition for the best solution – again, because of resource scarcity. The situation isn’t – or shouldn’t be – analogous to competing divisions of a profitable corporation where, for instance, two divisions vie to create next year’s model of sports car.

It's unlikely that a solution will develop from the delivery of an edict that says, “You do this and you do that." It’s more likely that a solution will arise when the groups involved realize that their work has overlapped, a circumstance they may not have realized.

A couple of different challenges arise. First, those involved need to be aware that “scope creep” has occurred. The situation requires visibility. The second step is to create an environment in which the problem of overlap can be discussed amongst the principals involved in the situation. And the third step would be to reach consensus to avoid the duplication of effort and coordinate the wisest use of limited resources.

I’d venture that the holistic nature of Smart Grid, the interrelated aspects of grid modernization, have created this scenario. Consider the now-famous NIST cloud diagram. It’s readily apparent that an intelligent grid involves every aspect of generation, transmission, distribution and consumption of electric power. Consequently responsibilities that previously were well-defined and separate have now been brought together. Logical demarcations are needed to address this issue. The question is "How? Where? When?”

The working groups within each SDO will need to ponder these questions in regard to those logical demarcations of responsibility. In a meeting in Frankfurt in January this very issue arose: as many as 10 different technical committees believed they have some say over integrating renewable energy into the grid. Distinctions between the various committees’ scopes may or may not have been drawn at the start. But before the situation devolves into a turf battle, the organization and the technical committees may have to reassess the scopes of their respective assignments and explore whether they need to realign their directions. 

Sam Sciacca is an active senior member in the IEEE and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in the area of utility automation. He has more than 25 years of experience in the domestic and international electrical utility industries. Sciacca serves as the chair of two IEEE working groups that focus on cyber security for electric utilities: the Substations Working Group C1 (P1686) and the Power System Relay Committee Working Group H13 (PC37.240). Sciacca also is president of SCS Consulting.

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