GRID ARCHITECTURE ARTICLE 6: The Grid Architecture Development Process

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  • Sep 21, 2020

GRID ARCHITECTURE ARTICLE 6:  The Grid Architecture Development Process

by Eamonn McCormickStuart McCafferty & David Forfia

"A holistic approach that considers multiple structures simultaneously is critical to the Grid Architecture process"

Dr. Jeff Taft creator of the Grid Architecture Methodology

Figure 12: The Grid Architecture of tomorrow is much different than today.

In this sixth and final article in the GRID ARCHITECTURE ARTICLE series, we provide you with the methodology that DOE has developed.  It provides you with their recommendations on architecture team structure and size, as well as how the utility’s Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) should interact with that team.  We hope that you have enjoyed the series and will follow up in learning more about the DOE’s Grid Architecture methodology.


There is an urgent need to prepare for change in the energy industry. Daily we see new indications that the world is changing rapidly. For example, according to Guidehouse and the World Bank,

"Worldwide, there are 61 carbon pricing initiatives in place or scheduled for implementation, covering 12 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) or about 22 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions." 

Instead of asking, “how much change will happen?” a new analysis from UC Berkeley asked, “how fast will it happen?”—specifically, how quickly can the industry get to 90-percent zero-carbon power with wind, solar, hydropower and nuclear power—at no additional cost to consumers? Thanks to rapidly falling costs for wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries, their answer is 15 years – 2035!  That means MASSIVE CHANGES to how the grid must operate and integrate a very large number of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) and move from a centralized, analog architecture to one that is highly digitalized and distributed.  Architecture truly becomes the critical activity to ensure flexible, distributed intelligence and “future proofing” investments in a rapidly changing, “moving target” environment.

Getting Familiar with DOE’s Grid Architecture Process

Grid Architecture architects create models the industry can use to graphically represent and simplify the complex interactions of people, processes, infrastructure, software, communications, economics and markets, and physics of the electric power grid.  These models can be used to visualize how the future of the grid looks and behaves due to environmental, social, and economic impacts of things such as carbon reduction incentives and rapidly falling costs of wind, solar and hydropower. 

Grid Architecture is an important new methodology within the energy industry and is being promoted by the DOE as a holistic approach to address the complexity caused by bi-directional power flow, distributed generation and controllable load assets, affordable energy storage, and a variety of other factors that are disrupting the century-old paradigm of the top-down, centralized grid.

For decades utilities have been performing grid planning and have developed business functions to perform these roles (at the transmission, generation and distribution levels). Unfortunately, these business functions were primarily oriented towards physical network expansion and capital investment for rate making. This has worked well for an electric power ecosystem that was growing in a predictable manner. However, the ways in which we address growth, or in many cases, a reduction in usage of utility-provided electricity, we are now seeing an urgent need for a more flexible and informed approach. Grid Architecture goes beyond just traditional grid planning or engaging the "Advanced Technology Group" within the utility.  The methodology looks holistically at the grid across several structural dimensions. This is being driven by the rapid rate of change in the grid across several structural arenas including regulatory, industry structure, control, digital information processing and communications to name a few.

Figure 13:  Grid Architecture Structures

Grid Architecture  was developed by PNNL for the DOE as a framework for the industry to use to solve its most pressing problems. Grid Architecture typically plans at a longer time horizon of ten year  where grid modernization and investments are analyzed as a cohesive optimized plan and longer term roadmap - usually at the director or VP level as part of the utility’s strategic planning group. The strategic planning group becomes an important piece of the utility’s ability to address current and future issues and capabilities in a systematic, no-regrets aproach.

The Utility’s Grid Architecture Team

So how do we go about developing "Grid Architectures"? The first step is to form a Grid Architecture team with a clear mandate to follow the principles and processes of DOE’s Grid Architecture concept to address systemic issues that can be solved through thoughtful architecture. The architecture team includes several roles, but not mean a different person for each role.  The core team should not be more than about 6 people. No matter how big the project, a small brain trust of six or so individuals should form the nucleus of the exercise. The team consists of the "Lead Architect" and team architects. The core team functions with a leader along with a variety of other supporting team members such as subject matter experts. Beyond the core team typically we will have layers of SMEs. It is best to think of Grid Architecture as a ring of teams. These can be thought of rings - core team 3 to 6, second ring 12 to 15 and third ring is more organically created to represent all they key stakeholder interests that must be considered in the architecture. The rings outside the core team inner ring (the second and third rings) are generally recruited by the core team. Everyone in the core team should always look at all the work in a collaborative fashion leveraging workshops and make sure frequent work by the core team on the architecture.

Figure 14:  Grid Architecture Team and Supporting Cast

There are a few roles in Grid Architecture Team that may be a little unfamiliar a first glance, but each provides valuable input to the overall process and deliverables.

Lead Architect – provides overall technical leadership for core team.

Core Architect Team – no more than 5 architects to support lead architect with expertise in systems, grid infrastructure, communications infrastructure, Enterprise IT, industry, and Grid Architecture.

Subject Matter Experts (SME) – utility experts from planning, operations, IT, transmission, generation, distribution, DER, substation, and controls.  In general, several eyes are needed to validate the models to ensure there are no missing constraints or interactions between architectural elements that are not possible.

Graphics Artist – graphics is an important aspect of communicating ideas to the stakeholders.

Stakeholder Manager – ensures that all appropriate stakeholders are engaged as needed and their voices are heard throughout the exercise.  Acts as intermediary between core team and stakeholder members.

PM/Admin – manage time, people, and cost and communicate regularly to all stakeholder groups.  Behind the scenes, the project managers are the glue that keeps the whole architecture process moving.

Validators - a specific type of role to ensure that the Grid Architecture model is workable. This can include people who do analysis or simulations, and others who are SMEs.

Editor/Documentation Lead – written documentation accompanies all architectural deliverables to explain architectural elements, constraints, systemic issues, qualities, and properties.

Toolsmith – identifies and/or develops tools to simplify and automate aspects of the exercise where possible.

Researcher – go-to person to dig deeper into areas that are not thoroughly understood and are required to ensure architectural mistakes are not made simply due to misinformation or ignorance.

With a team in place and roles assigned it is now key to ensure we establish excellent stakeholder management. Grid Architecture looks at architecture holistically, and thus impacts many people. Stakeholder management is a key role that is often forgotten but is of particular significance when dealing with many people with a vested interest in the outcome of a project or activity. The stakeholder manager acts as a main point of contact between the core team and the project stakeholders and manages stakeholder workflows. This takes a unique set of skills as not everyone can manage the personal relationships involved in stakeholder management and who can also organize the stakeholders into effective groups that can deliver optimal consensus results. This is a complex role involving for example building and maintaining contact lists, managing stakeholder events and activities, facilitating stakeholders/core team interactions and ensuring stakeholder participation/timely responses to core team requests.

Laying the Groundwork

Stakeholder engagement is vital because Grid Architectures require acceptance and strong, positive relationships with a variety of stakeholders to dramatically streamline consensus, agreements, and ensure feelings aren’t hurt.  Big bang rollouts are not typical in Grid Architecture work. Instead, regular feedback and iterative development is key, so everyone feels they are heard and really big mistakes are avoided. The approach breaks stakeholders into several classes and treats each differently so feedback is manageable and actionable. The process should have a strong retail flavor and is a long tail process –listening to concerns and iteratively improving the architecture to address them fairly and in a timely manner. Grid Architecture is a classic case of "if we want to go far, we need to go together" rather than a “if we want to go fast, we need to go alone.”

Grid Architecture does not employ use cases, at least not in the conventional view of utility use cases.  Instead, the methodology allows the Grid Architecture team to consider macro use cases or scenarios.  This is deliberately less granular than a normal use case, and the intent is to view the scenarios as multiple activities that help to capture interactions and coupled events.  These scenarios are used later in the process to help validate the architecture, but they should be considered in advance to help inform the architecture development.

As the architecture evolves through its phases we must also ensure architectural integrity. The conceptual integrity of an architecture is a measure of how well it conforms to a united set of principles. A principle represents a statement of intent defining a general property that applies to elements or structures in a certain context in the architecture.  Conceptual integrity typically derives from a small subset of resonant minds who ensure the architecture is "making sense". This need for a small subset of resonant minds is why Grid Architecture process recommends a core team approach. This small team must align on the key ideas that underpin the architecture. In order to get to this integrity, the team agrees to a set of guiding principles as a recipe for success. These need to be debated and agreed to up front and communicated/edited with non-core members of the Grid Architecture team. The core principles are documented and are correlated to the architecture throughout the Grid Architecture development journey. 

Examples of good principles include:

  • The architecture should be devoid of unnecessary complexities or exceptions
  • Similar problems should be solved in similar ways
  • The architecture should produce enforceable constraints where required
  • Several different workable designs can be derived from the architecture
  • “Laminar” (or hierarchical) control structures should be supported

How to Get Started

A key idea is to look both at the external and internal aspects of the architecture.  The approach recommends starting from the "outside in" and identifying “qualities” the architecture should support. Once that is completed, think of the internal “properties” that are needed to support the “qualities” that were identified.  The process is iterative and it is not helpful to be overly prescriptive.  The Grid Architecture development process should follow this sequence:

  • Establish Core Team
  • Define objectives / systemic issues
  • Identify architectural qualities (classes of external requirements)
  • that Identify relevant structures (structures of relevance to the qualities)
  • Identify architectural properties (classes of internal requirements)
  • Identify key elements within the structures that are of relevance
  • Map architectural elements to properties and requirements
  • Identify patterns and reference architectures of relevance in solving Systemic Issues
  • Structure synthesis - analysis of alternatives across structures that would address the systemic issues/qualities/properties
  • Develop architecture blueprints
  • Validation and rating of the blueprint and discussion of options
  • Iterations of the process until a suitable architecture is arrived at that meet the qualities

This final article hopefully provides the DOE's "big picture" on how to get started with their Grid Architecture methodology and a high level understanding of the Grid Architecture process.  The importance of creating a cohesive and effective architecture team cannot be understated if you wish to be successful incorporating the DOE process.   This is not a short journey, so if this is a path for you, now is the time to start looking internally and externally for the Grid Architecture core team and supporting stakeholder members to get started.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 21, 2020

Stakeholder management is a key role that is often forgotten but is of particular significance when dealing with many people with a vested interest in the outcome of a project or activity. The stakeholder manager acts as a main point of contact between the core team and the project stakeholders and manages stakeholder workflows. 

I'd also add the importance of doing stakeholder management in earnest to create the best possible results you can for the stakeholder, and not having it be done more or less in name only as a box you're just trying to check off. The stakeholders are the ones in the trenches with the results every day, so their feedback is certainly paramount.

Thanks for this great series, Stu!

Stuart McCafferty's picture
Stuart McCafferty on Sep 21, 2020

That's two architecture series completed.  Now what?  :)  I guess we will think of something.  Thanks to Energy Central for all their support!

Thanks, Matt!

Jim Horstman's picture
Jim Horstman on Sep 29, 2020

Interesting that Graphics Artist is a primary player. While, as noted, graphics can be an important part of communications, it is only a part. I would expect that a graphics artist would be a few rings further out with a broader communication role being in the inner rings. Change management is also likely to play a key role as the way in which the utility operates and even is organized is likely to change as the architecture evolves and is implemented.

Stuart McCafferty's picture
Stuart McCafferty on Sep 29, 2020

Hi Jim, I'm not sure we represented this clearly.  The graphics artist is on the outer ring of supporting cast members.  It may not be clearly drawn or explained in our article.  But, you are correct that that role is not part of the core team.  I do like your suggestion on Change Management.  I think that the DOE Grid Architecture support for change management was meant to be captured by the Stakeholder Manager role.  Maybe it is something that needs to be more deliberately called out.  I'll let Dr. Taft know your suggestion.  Much obliged, Jim.


Stuart McCafferty's picture
Thank Stuart for the Post!
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