The Importance of the Common Information Model for the Future of Digital Grid Management

December 08, 2023

A lingua franca is a “pidgin” or trade language which served as a common language between people who spoke different native languages, originally in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. These common languages arose as an organic evolution of languages to bridge cultural barriers in domains where communication between speakers of different languages was necessary such as trade, diplomacy and cultural exchange.

Similarly, the Common Information Model (CIM) serves as a standardized framework for communication between different utilities and/or vendors. Allowing for:

  • Universal communication
  • Standardization and compatibility
  • Facilitating collaboration
  • Simplifying integration complexity

In essence, just as a lingua franca was a unifying language for diverse groups, the CIM acts to unify and enable communication and interaction between diverse components of utility OT/IT ecosystems.

The CIM is the common “language” to unify data and create a single source of truth for collecting or exchanging such data in power systems. It enables advanced business processes across entities, resulting in more secure, sustainable and efficient power grid networks. At AspenTech, we’ve seen this in practice with our European customers who are required to participate in the European Network of Transmission Service Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) business practices to achieve EU objectives of affordability, sustainability and security of supply. Unifying data exchange and analytical capabilities enabled by the CIM is also one of the motivations for the increasing interest we’ve observed from Independent System Operators (ISOs) and individual utilities in North America over the last several years.

The Role of CIM Moving Forward

In the not-so-distant future, a key piece to CIM’s importance in grid management will involve digital twins serving as digital replicas of operational sites, creating simulated real-time environments that allow for fine-tuning of operational efficiencies and improving maintenance costs. Recent work done by Microsoft on an energy grid ontology for digital twins was based on the CIM standard and has since been published and is publicly available on GitHub for use on Azure. Further, with the radical advent of generative AI recently, interest in the CIM and Resource Description Framework (RDF)  knowledge graphs and semantics representations they are based on has only increased. RDF serves as a standard for representing knowledge and is a natural fit for use in Generative AI Large Language Models. RDF lies at the center of IEC standards for representing power systems data exchanges so the potential is clear but there is further work to be done.

Additionally, Alphabet, Inc., Google’s parent company, now has representation within IEC Working Group 13 (WG 13) as they see the value of the CIM in alignment with their own sustainability objectives. So, when surveying the lay of the land, interest is present from some of the largest players in the market and is yet another indicator of the importance of CIM’s role.

As for the longer term, late last year I had the opportunity to join the IEC Technical Committee 57 (TC 57) Advisory Group 22 (AG 22) in-person meetings in Munich, Germany. AG 22 has been charged with the digital transformation of IEC TC57 and evaluating and recommending the direction for the “next generation” of power system standards needed to support this transformation.

Future standards will enable the evolution of digital twins and will account for how machine learning and AI can fit into this digital landscape. These areas correlate well with AspenTech’s own goals for digital transformation as well as our strengths and position in the areas of advanced AI and process modeling.

The Global Landscape

The changes in the global landscape and ongoing evolution of net zero targets express well many of the core reasons for AspenTech’s commitment to CIM and IEC standards. In demonstration of this commitment, in September of 2022 and again recently in October 2023, AspenTech hosted the IEC/UCA Joint Working Group (WG) Hybrid meetings at its Medina, Minnesota facilities. Here, IEC expert members representing the interests of their respective national committees, met for a week of detailed planning on the next release of the CIM and collaborated on decisions to progress the CIM in critical areas such as distributed energy resources (e.g., solar and wind) and next generation modeling of protection equipment and advanced control functions within the model. 

Both in-person and remote attendees participated from countries including Japan, Netherlands, France, U.K., Ireland, Norway, Croatia, Denmark, and Canada among others. The research scientists and expert members who traveled to attend in-person represented many of the National Committees of these countries.

On the distribution side, beginning this month, an AspenTech team will directly participate in Phase II of EPRI’s Grid Model Data Management (GMDM) Vendor Forum where I will have the honor of serving as the CIM standards liaison for the team.  As EPRI describes it: 

“EPRI’s Distribution GIS & Grid Model Data Management (GMDM) project is defining functional capabilities for managing network models. As part of this effort, EPRI is engaging vendors of distribution domain software products that supply, manage, or consume grid model data along with consultants that assist in their integration. Phase I of the Vendor Forum culminated in the first successful interoperability test of the distribution grid model data exchange using the IEC CIM standards. The GMDM Vendor Forum phase II will:

  • Improve the GMDM data management architecture via vendor and consultant review and feedback.
  • Demonstrate multi-vendor interoperability using the GMDM architecture.
  • Further improve CIM support for distribution network model data exchange.
  • Provide industry-supported, interoperability-tested interface specifications to support product development and procurement.”

AspenTech understands the value of the CIM and IEC standards and the alignment with its own vision for digital transformation. The world is facing a dual challenge of increasing demand for natural resources from a growing global population and the need to meet net zero targets. As a result, we are excited to continue to invest in these critical areas and believe playing a primary role in its development is essential and of direct benefit to our customers.


Blog Note: Todd was recently honored with the IEC 1906 award for contributions to CIM standardization within IEC TC 57 (Technical Committee 57).  The IEC 1906 Award honors IEC experts around the world whose work is fundamental to the IEC and recognizes exceptional and recent achievements related to the activities of the IEC and which contribute in a significant way to advancing the work of the Commission. Only five experts in each field worldwide are nominated each year.


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