The FLEXCoop solution, as many for many Smart Grid demonstration project, is composed of a group of heterogeneous modules and devices developed by different companies and research centres. Defining a common architecture enabling all components to be fully integrated is key to achieve an interoperable solution. The Common Information Model is a tool addressing this challenge.
Standardising communications is critical
FLEXCoop components are integrated to create an end-to-end architecture from the sensor devices installed in the dwellings, to the visualisation interfaces for the prosumers and market agents, hosted in the cloud or central systems. The variety of functionalities in the modules and the necessity of information of each one makes mandatory to address the standardisation and interoperability issues of the ICT, monitoring and control interaction of the project. In this sense, the definition of a common data model to ensure the understanding between the architecture modules and agents becomes a critical first step.
The standardisation of these communications means enabling data exchange within a system with common rules as a mean to reach the desired functionalities. This is key to achieve interoperability which is so relevant in communications or data-based architectures. The provision of innovative energy services and the different FLEXCoop scenarios are specially relevant samples of the mentioned architectures, as they hold a mix of commercial and technical information from various sources (prosumer, service provider, market, grid status, weather conditions, etc.).
The definition of a common data model is a challenging effort, specially at the beginning stages of extensive, multiple-components developments, but comes with a lot of benefits. It allows different agents to understand each other, improves the follow-up of the information flow through the system and helps the integration of the system with third parties, as well as the addition of new modules in the existent architecture.
Common information model, the FLEXCoop approach
FLEXCOOP has worked on methodology defining an ordered procedure for the creation of the common information model. After defining a common data structure to compile the variables of the system, a recurrent process was started to periodically produce new or updated versions of the data model.
The first step of this task was the definition of a methodology for the partners to develop the common data model in a collaborative way, in order to establish a roadmap with the appropriate milestones. After analysing the role of each component of the architecture inside the system, an open conversation was started about how to structure the information of the project, which led to a first version of the CIM. Using this outline, each partner defined a first version of the variables of each module, contributing with those that they expect to publish or generate, and those that they need to perform their specific functionalities.
Putting together each contribution in a common version, a recurrent process was started, where the inconsistencies between modules were identified and solved in the following revisions of the common version. The complexity of this process meant that the revision process was quite long and required several meetings and working sessions from the partners to achieve a version that could fulfil the overall needs of the project. Nevertheless, it’s well worth the trouble as the agreed data model allows each partner to develop their modules knowing that the information is going to flow inside the system in a well-knows format and everyone can understand each other.
Once the data model is established, it can be implemented by different communication protocols. In the case of FLEXCoop, the consortium decided to use OpenADR and API REST as standardised solutions for the message exchange. The use of standardized solutions also helps the interoperability of this architecture with external elements and easier upgrade with new modules in the future.
If you are interested to learn more, Deliverable 4.3 “FLEXCoop Common Information Model” is available on FLEXCoop website.