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To effectively inform grid operations with high-level integration of solar, visibility is required across multiple spatial scales (from the end-user load through the distribution substation and beyond) and at multiple time scales (from microseconds to hours and days). Advances in information, communications, and sensor technologies are needed to adequately monitor the behavior and manage the impact of the solar technologies integrating into the grid. 

The Communications activity area supports the development of open and interoperable communication and control architectures; communication requirements such as network latency, scalability, and availability; smart inverter communication standards such as IEC 61850, DNP3, and SEP 2; and enterprise integration standards based on common information model (CIM). The solar office also supports the implementation of standard communication protocols in inverter hardware and enterprise software and demonstration of end-to-end system integration and interoperability on actual distribution feeders with utilities. Communications solutions will leverage existing communication technologies and develop new communication and control architectures to collect, store, visualize, and analyze real time operation data which is growing exponentially.


Achieving the Communications target metrics will transform the electric grid from a centralized and hierarchical network architecture to a more distributed one – with ever-increasing numbers of small and/or variable generators scattered throughout the grid.  This will allow operators to better monitor and manage the impact of integrating large amounts of solar generation into the electric power system.

Technical Metrics for Communications and Related Aspects
  • Scalability up to 5 Million Nodes
    • Ability to scale the communication network in the number of connected nodes, bandwidth, latency, and coverage distance in order to meet the needs of various applications.
  • Availability > 99.999%
    • ​Defined as the probability that the communication network will perform without a failure for a stated period of time. Includes the performance of the physical network as well as the accuracy of the messages being sent and received.
  • Response time < 1 sec
    • Delay between the moment a message/command is sent from the source node and the moment at which that information is received and acted upon at the destination node.
  • Interoperability – Compliance to Open Standards
    • ​Defined as the capability of two or more networks, systems, devices, applications, or components to exchange and readily use information—securely, effectively, and with little or no inconvenience to the user. (“NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 2.0”, Smart Grid Interoperability Panel [SGIP], NIST, 2012)
  • Communications cost to support LCOE < 6 c/kWh
    • ​Defined as the life-cycle cost of building, operating, and maintaining the communication network and end devices. Includes initial capital costs for equipment and infrastructure build-up and the recurring costs for operation and maintenance.