smart grid rolling out (DarwelShots/Shutterstock.com)

NIST tackles smart grid framework update

The entire energy ecosystem has shifted since the National Institute of Standards and Technology last updated its Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards in September 2014.  On Aug. 17 and 18, a meeting of the NIST Smart Grid Advisory Committee discussed updating the framework to meet the needs of today’s producers and consumers.

With attacks on the electric grid seen as increasingly plausible, cybersecurity was top of mind. Nelson Hastings, an electronics engineer and project leader at NIST’s computer security division, led a discussion about the importance of keeping smart grid devices secure without creating latency.

“We are profiling performance of smart grid devices when cybersecurity capabilities are enabled," Hastings said.  NIST is also developing technology to assess the impact of security solutions on grid edge devices, which it defines as smart meters, thermostats and HVAC heating and cooling systems, he said. Work is also being done to assess the effects of enabling encryption on smart meters, inverters, EV charging stations and thermostats.

John McDonald, the business development leader with GE’s SmartGrid Strategy Group North America, expressed some concern about how adding cybersecurity measures into devices could impact their performance. He suggested putting the security technology into the network gateway rather than the device itself.

“You can have the same level of security by putting it at a different device level like in the gateway, but you need to look at architectural tradeoffs,” McDonald said.  “I’m not sacrificing the cyber capability, but I’m making the total system less expensive.”

NIST Smart Grid Program Manager Avi Gopstein explained how smart grid systems have changed with the ownership of assets coming now from the service owners.

“The question of asset ownership is very important, and it is a dynamic area of understanding right now,” Gopstein said.  “We are struggling with what it means for consumer provider devices, service devices and utility devices on the system.”

Work on the framework will focus on the smart grid technology layers: conceptual, logical, physical and implementation. It will build on version 3.0, which took a conceptual model and made the framework into an architectural discussion.

NIST is looking to get input from the public on operations, economics, cybersecurity, testing and certification with a focus on the changing architecture of the smart grid.

“We want to leverage some of the current research,” Gopstein said.  “For each of these topics, we want to partner with an organization to hold a workshop in the field to get input from the community.”

Industry stakeholders were particularly interested in the current issues such as storage components and what it means to deal with the data from smart metering. 

But Deborah Gracio, director of the National Security Program Development Office at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, urged committee members to think further ahead -- about new markets like bitcoin and the “huge explosion” of edge devices on the smart grid.

“Going back to the cyber risk framework is great start for what we need to do for the smart grid,” Gracio said.  “As you start to think about renewables and storage, you need think about how these issues will work on the grid, and the hygiene component is going to be one of the big issues.”

To ensure the framework meets the challenges of the next five years, stakeholders recommended study of other considerations:

  • Spatial and temporal granularity.
  • Role of the "prosumer," a consumer who also produces energy .
  • A highly electrified low-carbon future.
  • Embedded measurement and sensing.
  • Operational interdependence.
  • Plug-and-play integration.
  • Technology renovation cycle and the pace of standard developments.
  • Analytics for better use of data.

Meanwhile, NIST is taking steps to test smart grid technology in house.  Committee members got to see the work in progress on the Smart Grid Testbed Facility.

The $2.5 million facility on the NIST site in Gaithersburg, Md., will create a set of interconnected and interacting labs that test measurement systems and validate smart grid standards with a particular focus on microgrids -- smaller grids that can be quickly disconnected from, and function independently of, the larger grid.

Measurements will be conducted in eight areas including power conditioning, cybersecurity, precision time synchronization, sensor interfaces and energy storage.

More information about NIST’s work in the smart grid space can be found here.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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