Reliability has long been the most important element of operations to electricity generators and providers; the modern economy has been built around it. But as new technology evolves rapidly in management of energy consumption and both financial and regulatory limits remain on a comprehensive rebuild of the US electricity industry, the sector has found itself stuck mid-disruption.

A belief that smart meter installation would somehow finish the job of making any utility a connected, operationally forward-thinking powerhouse has been proved wrong by the substantial number of smart meter installations that have failed to alter any part of traditional utilities’ businesses (in many cases data is not even collected, or if collected isn’t acted on). The inability of all the different pieces of the energy system to “speak” to each other electronically has in many cases made traditional reliability practices futile, while not quite bringing the new reliability systems into full practice.

Cisco says it has the solution, part of the “Connected Grid” portfolio of products and strategies it is rolling out at the high-profile DistribuTECH conference in San Diego.

A briefing by Cisco executives for Breaking Energy revealed a system-wide approach that, while incredibly complex in detail and in technological innovation, is based on the simple idea of making the different parts of the power system speak to each other without rebuilding the entire system. “This isn’t a rip-and-replace exercise,” Cisco VP of Connected Energy Networks David Goddard told Breaking Energy; “We’ve spent a significant amount of time taking a forward looking view of how we expect the entire environment to evolve over time.”

Managers and line workers charged with maintaining reliability at utilities will warm to Goddard’s talk of “certified compatability” for Cisco’s products and technology, as well as its data exchange model that can export and import configurations that enable information about energy usage to move in both directions along the delivery chain.

“The question is how you put together a combined offering so that they can run their existing applications,” Cisco Energy and Smart Grid marketing executive Sanket Amberkar said in briefing Breaking Energy.

Cisco has already begun rolling out its technology and its “GridBlocks” architecture to more than 250 customers worldwide and has early results from case studies with industry leaders like China State Grid that Goddard says are “tremendously important” to helping other utility players solve the business challenges they face with the new technology being rolled out across the grid.

“Cisco’s Design Suite enables our engineers to streamline substation network discovery, design modeling and testing processes,” State Grid of China Automation Department director Lu Hong said as part of the Cisco Distributech rollout. “It also helps validate and keep track of configuration changes, which meet our operational needs very well.”

New Connected Grid Solutions include:

  • Cisco Utility Operational Network Solution
  • Cisco Connected Grid Design Suite
  • Cisco Incident Response and Workforce Enablement Solution

For much more on Cisco’s offerings, visit their site here.