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Smart Grid Communication Networks


While there is a clear need for communication networks supporting reliable information transfer between the various entities in the electric grid, there are many issues related to network performance, suitability, interoperability, and security that need to be resolved. This project will focus on identifying opportunities to tailor existing communication protocols to support the specific needs of smart grid applications. By creating collaborative links between the stakeholders, users, and standard developing organizations (SDOs) working on telecommunications, this project will promote the use and deployment of interoperable communication protocols for smart grid. In addition, the analytical and simulation tools and the published research findings that will be produced by this project will foster the development of new areas of inquiry into smart grid specific communication technologies..


Objective: To accelerate the development of scalable, reliable, secure, and interoperable communications and standards for smart grid applications by 2016; and to enable informed decision making by smart grid operators by developing measurement science-based guidelines and tools. 

What is the new technical idea? Traditionally, technology decisions have been dictated by offerings of system vendors, while business decisions are regulated by federal, state, and regional regulatory commissions and organizations (e.g. the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, state Public Utility Commissions, and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation). While there are many choices of communications and networking standards, most of these standards were not developed specifically for smart grid applications. The new technical idea is to work directly with the smart grid stakeholders (utilities, regulators and consumers) and the telecommunication industry (vendors, SDOs, service providers) to identify communication requirements for smart grid applications, evaluate and develop communication standards, and develop guidelines and recommendations on their use and deployment. Also, the introduction of new power distribution technologies will transform the electrical network so that it will resemble regional and continental high speed telecommunications networks, although the transported commodity will be electrical power rather than data. This creates an opportunity to apply well-established analysis and optimization techniques from the telecommunications field to aid in the design of future electrical networks.

What is the research plan? Our research plan is comprised of four main thrusts. 
 1) Application of concepts from telecommunications analysis to the electrical network: The electrical distribution network has structural similarities to wired communications networks that invite the application of modeling and analysis techniques that have been traditionally used in communications networks, such as routing algorithms and traffic analysis. In FY13, the project has already generated results in the area of energy usage prediction and routing of electrical flows; the plan is to extend this work by considering how protection and restoration techniques for wide-area networks can be applied to the smart grid, and how storage devices can be sited to maximize the smart grid’s efficiency. 
2) System-level modeling of smart grid communications: The smart grid’s electrical distribution systems and communication systems supporting them are not self-contained, but will affect each other’s behavior through mutual feedback, whereby events in one system trigger events in other systems. With the exception of recent initiatives that are developing multi-level system modeling platforms (GridLab-D at the Pacific Norwest National Laboratory and THYME at Oak Ridge National Laboratory), most models available today tend to hone in on only a few aspects of the overall system (for example, transmission, distribution, or communication) while ignoring the remaining interdependencies. In FY13, we have gained familiarity with GRIDLAB-D and NS-3, two prominent platforms for modeling the power grid and communication networks, respectively. In FY14, we plan to develop a closed loop co-simulation framework capturing high level interactions between the electrical and communications systems. Using Priority Action Plan (PAP) 2 use cases as case studies, we plan on identifying performance gaps and vulnerabilities, and developing recommendations for system deployment. 
 3) Improvements to the smart grid communications network: Smart grid traffic is structurally different from Internet traffic, as revealed by the use cases developed for PAP 2. The delay and loss requirements for smart grid applications vary widely; some are very tolerant of long delays or lost information (metering), while others demand near-instantaneous data delivery with virtually no loss (wide area measurement systems). Also, the amount of data exchanged can grow very large as in the case of wide area measurement systems. As these systems scale up to a large number of Phasor Measurement Units (PMU), the centralized super-Phasor Data Collector (PDC) architecture becomes untenable. The plan is to model the smart grid communications network using network simulation (NS3) and emulation (Emulab) tools in addition to developing proof of concept implementations for real testbed environments. In the case of wide area measurements systems, we plan on developing a distributed computing and communication framework where only subsets of the data exchanged will be processed by local computers. This effort is aimed at reducing both the amount of data exchanged and the computational complexity. In addition, we plan on assessing the performance of a wide variety of communication protocols such as traffic scheduling, routing, authentication, key management, media access control, and application performance data for multiple scenarios so that methods for improving the performance of communication protocols can be developed. 
 4) Support of the smart grid standardization efforts: ITL will continue to lead and contribute to the activities of the SGIP PAPs related to wireless and powerline communications. In addition ITL staff will continue to participate in international standard activities (ITU, IEEE 802 and IETF) related to smart grid communications.

Major Accomplishments:

Research Outcomes: A list of ERB-approved papers submitted for publication in the identified list of peer-reviewed, archival journals in 2012-2013 is provided below, along with project name(s) in brackets: 
  • “On Statistical Modeling and Forecasting of Energy Usage in Smart Grid,” W. Yu, D. An, D. Griffith, Q. Yang, and G. Xu, submitted to IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid 
  • “Guest Editorial – Smart Grid Communications,” N. Golmie, A. Scaglione, L. Lumpe, E. Yeh, Lang Tong, and Sean Smith, submitted to IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications 
A few additional ERB-approved papers submitted for publications in other journals are listed below for reference:  
  • '4-Way Handshaking Protection for Wireless Mesh Network Security in Smart Grid,” H. Gharavi and B. Hu, submitted to IEEE GLOBECOM 2013. [Smart Grid Communication Networks, FY13] 
  • “Adaptive Key Management for Wireless Sensor Networks,” T. Cheneau and M. Ranganatha, submitted to IEEE GLOBECOM 2013. 
Realized Research Impacts: A list of published papers in peer-reviewed, archival journals is provided below, in brackets, fiscal year of acceptance and number of citations (as of May 2013):
  • “Multigate Communication Network for Smart Grid” Hamid Gharavi and Bin Hu, Proceedings of the IEEE (June 2011) 99 (6) 1028-1045.  
  • “Smart Grid: The Electric Energy System of the Future” Hamid Gharavi and Reza Ghafurian, Proceedings of the IEEE (June 2011) 99 (6) 917-921.  

Start Date:

October 1, 2012

Lead Organizational Unit:



Principal Investigator: Nada Golmie, ITL

Hamid Gharavi, David Cypher and David Griffith (ITL)

General Information:
Nada Golmie, ITL
301 975 4190 Telephone

100 Bureau Drive, M/S 8920
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8920