Industry Article

Empowering Grid Stability: OpenADR’s Impact on Power Outages

March 03, 2024 by Rolf Bienert, OpenADR Alliance

After 23 years, the OpenADR protocol has evolved into a method to reduce energy consumption and avoid rolling blackouts.

Born out of the California energy crisis 23 years ago, OpenADR was a way to avoid blackouts as California’s energy needs exceeded available resources. At the time, the only response available to grid operators was to shut down completely. The blackouts cycled within the affected areas, known as rolling blackouts. 

The crisis had serious knock-on effects within many areas of the power industry. Companies went out of business (the most memorable being the collapse of Enron), and new regulations were implemented. However, the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program provided the key impetus for OpenADR. The CEC wanted to avoid blackouts during future energy shortages. So, it offered a grant to develop an automated way (machine-to-machine) to communicate between utilities and customers to help reduce energy consumption temporarily instead of turning off the supply altogether.


 Two types of lightning strikes: one that strikes from cloud to ground (CG) and one that strikes from cloud to cloud (CC).

Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock


Lawrance Berkeley National Labs (LBNL) eventually developed the protocol in cooperation with the main utilities in California and companies like Akuacom, leading to the creation of OpenADR 1.0—a communication protocol enabling messages about prices and energy consumption to be exchanged between customers and utilities.

As smart grid efforts gained steam in the late 2000s, discussions about common demand response (DR) functionalities began with OpenADR 1.0 as the basis. The framework added several requirements, and OASIS Open created the necessary internet protocol structures. 

OpenADR Alliance emerged in 2010 to manage the implementations, certification, and branding of the OpenADR 2.0a and 2.0b Profile Specifications. OpenADR 2.0 quickly extended beyond California across the U.S., Hawaii, and other markets, including Japan, Korea, and China. European adoption has been slower, not because of different standards or mechanisms, but because customer involvement in DR or ‘flexibility’ programs has not progressed as quickly.


Image used courtesy of OpenADR


What Is OpenADR 2.0?

Most grid control standards are based on XML, a common and fairly simple language for storing, transmitting, and reconstructing data using a SOAP-like exchange model. It is generally represented as a serial data exchange model. In other words, the resource managing entity—usually a management server—opens a secure connection to the client system on the customer side and sends a message containing the XML code for the necessary information elements to the client, which parses the code for relevant data. The client replies to the original message with the necessary return information—a back-and-forth typical in control mechanisms. 

Since publishing in 2013, the OpenADR 2.0b Profile Specification has remained mostly unchanged. Also published at IEC 62746-10-1 in 2018, the standard continues to serve its purpose well and is used by more than 100 DR programs. 

Ideas for updating OpenADR 2.0b regarding protocol structures and signal and report mechanisms were bandied around, raising concerns about interoperability with existing solutions.


High power electricity poles in urban area connected to smart grid. Energy supply, distribution of energy, transmitting energy, energy transmission, high voltage supply concept photo.

Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock


Developing OpenADR 3.0

The question remained on how to accommodate requests about how the protocol was programmed, specifically, a JSON version instead of XML that would completely change the way OpenADR messages were created. To complicate matters, the DR system landscape was changing with the emphasis moving from curtailing loads to a focus on decentralized energy resources (DER) like solar, batteries, EV charging, and other grid-connected demand-side systems. 

With this in mind, a new version of OpenADR with high-level goals emerged.

The goals for OpenADR 3.0 included:

  • Updating less-than-optimal functionalities
  • Adding more use case-specific mechanisms 
  • Creating an appropriate security function for receiving-only/one-way systems (price distribution, etc.)
  • Facilitating new usage models like in-building coordination and microgrid operation
  • Simplifying  implementation for manufacturers
  • Improving off-the-shelf interoperability
  • Maintaining OpenADR 2.0a and 2.0b viability
  • Futureproofing

In addition to these goals, OpenADR 3.0 would use contemporary web functionalities, serving as a near functional equivalent of its predecessor, OpenADR 2.0b, but departing from the 2.0b SOAP-like web service design and instead adhering to RESTful web service best practices. REST services are more common than SOAP and are generally considered much more straightforward to use and troubleshoot.

OpenADR 3.0, a complementary version of 2.0b, would reduce entry barriers for new implementers and encourage more widespread adoption of the standard in general.

OpenADR 3.0 was published in the second half of 2023, and the certification and development test tool is in final testing. The first OpenADR 3.0 products should be certified in the first quarter of 2024.