Feds Unveil Draft of Smart Grid Interoperability Standards

The National Institute of Standards and Technology will form panel to oversee smart grid standards.

by / September 24, 2009

The U.S. Department of Commerce released Thursday, Sept. 24, the first 77 interoperability standards for the smart grid -- the next-generation digital system that industry and government officials say will revolutionize how the U.S. consumes and manages electricity.

The initial standards were distilled in a draft report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) via input provided in workshops attended by 1,500 private- and public-sector stakeholders.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced the new developments at the GridWeek conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

"To use an analogy from the construction world, this report is like a designer's first detailed drawing of a complex structure," said Locke in a news release. "It presents a high-level conceptual model to ensure that everyone is on the same page before moving forward to develop more detailed, formal smart grid architectures. This high-level model is critical to help plan where to go next."

The report will be open to public comment for 30 days, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will choose which standards will be authorized. The final report is expected to be finished by the end of 2009.

The report identifies standards that will have to be addressed for cyber-security, networks, hardware, architecture and other topics. Hundreds of standards eventually may be needed, according to the Department of Commerce.

NIST will establish a public-private Smart Grid Interoperability Panel that will manage the continual evolution of the standards, the Commerce Department announced. Funds from the economic stimulus will pay for the effort. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes $4.5 billion for smart grid pilot projects.

The nation's investment in smart meters is expected to eventually total $40 billion to $50 billion, according to an issues paper published by the Congressional Research Service in April 2009 that was cited by the NIST draft report. If done right, the electricity industry says this digitally connected system would allow consumers to consume power more intelligently, would give utilities the ability to better utilize the intermittent nature of renewable energy, and would give the nation as a whole a safer and more reliable power grid.

"Without standards, there is a potential for these investments to become prematurely obsolete or to be implemented without necessary measures to ensure security," according to the NIST draft report.

Government Playing Big Role

Power companies, municipal utilities and public utility commissions already have worked together to install millions of smart meters in U.S. homes. Government initiatives have driven much of the innovation. For instance, the California Public Utilities Commission authorized a $1.6 billion program called Edison SmartConnect in which the Southern California Edison meteutility company will install 5 million smart meters in the region; the first meters were installed last week. Other big smart grid projects are ongoing in Austin, Texas; Boulder, Colo.; Massachusetts; Florida and elsewhere.

Terry Hadley, spokesman for the Texas Public Utilities Commission, told Government Technology on Thursday that agreeing upon standards for smart meters and smart grid infrastructure is an important step because some first-generation smart meters installed in Texas already have had to be replaced because they weren't advanced enough.

In some respects, Texas has been working by itself on smart grid projects because most of the state's electricity grid is managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. In essence, it's operates as a single power system rather than a cooperative of public utility companies -- the more common structure in the U.S. This patchwork of stakeholders and management in the nation's electrical grid makes a single standard for the smart grid unfeasible, according to the NIST report.

"For the smart grid, which like the Internet is a loosely coupled system of systems, a single, all-encompassing architecture is not practical. Rather, the smart grid architecture will be a composite of many system and subsystem architectures," according to the report.

Matt Williams Associate Editor