An Introduction to Interoperability in the Energy Sector

Interoperability is seen by many in the energy sector as key to unlocking flexibility services.

However, the word interoperability is often used narrowly to describe the compatibility between interfacing pieces of technology. For example, when asking, “Is my smart device compatible with my smart-home controller?” we think about whether the device and controller are interoperable.

Energy Systems Catapult has produced this paper that argues interoperability should be considered more broadly. Understanding its wider implications will be essential if the energy system and consumers of energy are to benefit from the potential of digitisation.

Interoperability is the ability of a product or system to cooperate with other products or systems to share resources. The term is suitable for a wide range of uses and this paper explores 19 different types of interoperability within energy sectors.

This report provides clarity on the different uses of the term interoperability, discusses the types of interoperability which must be considered to deliver demand-side flexibility and provides case studies which illustrate the practical need to consider the different elements in context with each other. Furthermore, evidence for taking a systematic approach for products and services is provided, which highlights the need to think about multiple forms of interoperability simultaneously.

The 19 types of interoperability have been grouped into six areas to simplify the debate, however the full descriptions are included in the report since the challenges with each type will need to be considered carefully and may require different approaches to solve.

In summary the six types of interoperability are:

1. Consumer Interoperability: ensuring that provisions exist for consumers to switch between both different commercial offers and technology choices.
2. Commercial Interoperability: to ensure that incentives are aligned across the energy system to ensure that value can flow where it needs to, driven by market forces.
3. Data Interoperability: to ease the sharing and portability of data between different systems.
4. Device Interoperability: to ensure that devices are swappable, replaceable and exchangeable as needs change and technologies develop and to allow consumers to make informed choices between open and closed eco-systems.
5. Physical Interoperability: to ensure that end-to-end systems function as changes happen to parts of the system.
6. Vector Interoperability: to ensure that energy provision across gas, electricity, heat, transport fuels etc. are compatible with one-another and that coordination occurs in a timely fashion.