NIST ramps up work on standards for a Smart Grid

Spurred by economic stimulus spending that will support the development of a nationwide Smart Grid for intelligent energy distribution, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is stepping up efforts to identify or create interoperability and security standards for the new infrastructure.

In March, NIST established a full-time position to lead Smart Grid activities and hopes to recommend a suite of standards by the end of the year, said George Arnold, NIST deputy director of technical services, who is leading the effort.

“We’re doing this on a very fast track,” Arnold said. “This is doable.” Industry already has done a lot of the work, and much of NIST’s job will be to prioritize needs and identify existing standards that meet them.

The Smart Grid would use intelligent networking and automation to better control the flow and delivery of electricity to consumers. It is “a fully automated power delivery network that monitors and controls every customer and node, ensuring a two-way flow of electricity and information between the power plant and the appliance, and all points in between,” the Energy Department said in a report titled the “National Vision for Electricity’s Next 100 years.”

“Its distributed intelligence, coupled with broadband communications and automated control systems, enables real-time market transactions and seamless interfaces among people, buildings, industrial plants, generation facilities and the electric network,” DOE’s report states.

The program was established in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which gave DOE the overall lead and assigned NIST the job of developing a framework of standards and protocols to ensure interoperability. The nation’s power grid is almost entirely owned and operated by private industry, and NIST typically plays an advisory role in developing industry standards.

“But the Smart Grid is a little different,” Arnold said. It will tie together a historically fragmented collection of power delivery systems into a single nationwide infrastructure that will have operate reliably and securely. So NIST was given responsibility for devising standards, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates the industry, will impose them as necessary.

Without significant funding, however, advances in developing the Smart Grid have been limited. DOE has a GridWise Architecture Council that dates to 2004, and last year, it identified five principle domains in which standards are needed: transmission and distribution, the grid backbone, interconnectivity with customers, business and policy, and cybersecurity. Standards working groups have been established to work in these areas, but “unless there is a driving need, standards take time,” Arnold said.

That driving need came in the form of $4.5 billion in the stimulus law to help DOE jump-start development of a smart grid. With infrastructure being developed that is likely to remain in place for 40 or 50 years, industry needs standards to ensure longevity.

“The industry wants to see a robust framework” of standards, Arnold said. “So all of a sudden, standards are the hot topic in Washington. There is a real sense of urgency.”

NIST is planning a workshop in May for public and private stakeholders to identify and prioritize needed standards. That interim road map is expected to be ready in June, and a second workshop will be held to identify existing standards that meet smart-grid needs, with a suite of recommended standards ready by the end of the year.

In the longer term, the smart-grid effort is taking a page from the efforts to develop health care information technology standards, Arnold said. “A lot has been learned from that effort about what works and what doesn’t in bringing a large community together.”

A standards panel probably will be established with the private sector to create a longer-term road map and to coordinate development of standards.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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