NIST teams with research institute to develop Smart Grid standards

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded a $1.3 million contract to an independent research group to help develop an interim roadmap of standards for a nationwide intelligent electric grid.

The contract with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) of Palo Alto, Calif., is part of an aggressive NIST effort to identify or create interoperability and security standards for the new Smart Grid.

“This contract is a significant step in the urgent effort to identify and develop standards that will ensure a reliable and robust Smart Grid,” said NIST Deputy Director Patrick Gallagher.

The interim roadmap is expected by early summer, and NIST has said it soon will announce a three-phase plan for producing proposed standards for approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by the end of the year.

“We’re doing this on a very fast track,” said George Arnold, NIST's deputy director of technical services who is heading the agency's 0effort. “This is doable.” A lot of the work already has been done by industry, and much of the job will be to prioritize needs and identify existing standards that meet them.

EPRI is an independent nonprofit conducting research and development on the generation, delivery and use of electricity. Its members produce and deliver more than 90 percent of the nation’s electricity.

“EPRI is in a unique position to launch this effort quickly because our research and development programs have been focusing on a number of key aspects of the Smart Grid,” said Arshad Mansoor, vice president of the EPRI Power Delivery and Utilization sector. “We are already collaborating with many of the key players in our R&D and we understand who must be involved and the direction in which we must move.”

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 its “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.”

The program was established in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which gave Energy the overall lead and assigned to 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 and advisory role in development of industry standards. FERC, which regulates the power industry, will have authority to impose standards for the new intelligent infrastructure.

Development of the Smart Grid has become a high priority in the Obama administration because of its potential for helping to stimulating the economy, make the nation more energy independent and become more environmentally friendly. However, 0industry is demanding standards for interoperability and security to ensure that its long-term investment in this new infrastructure is safe.

The ability to secure the infrastructure, which will incorporate two-way communications to deliver and gather information as well as to control elements of the grid, is a serious concern. Because it will be an information network in its own right, it could be subject to threats and vulnerabilities now plaguing the Internet and other routable networks, and cybersecurity standards also will need to be developed.

Toward this end, NIST in March established a full-time position to lead Smart Grid activities, headed by Arnold.

Under the contract, EPRI will inventory existing standards, identify gaps and list priorities for either reconciling differences among current standards or developing new ones. EPRI also will be developing consensus among the many stakeholders in the program, including the utility industry, independent system operators, equipment manufacturers, standards development organizations, state regulators and representatives of consumers' groups.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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