Panel adds future-proofing, wireless pieces to smart grid plan

NIST's public/private effort sets standards for operating intelligent electric system

The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, a collaboration of industry and government formed to create a technical framework for operating and securing an intelligent electric distribution system, has approved standards for upgrading smart utility meters and guidelines for using wireless communications.

The SGIP was created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2009 as part of the national effort to develop technical standards for a smart electric grid.

The documents are not part of the regulatory requirements being considered for the nation’s power industry as it begins implementing smart grid technology, said David A. Wollman, the NIST lead on SGIP. Their approval by the SGIP governing board makes them available for review as companies determine how best to ensure interoperability and reliability of products and services. They are the latest products of a series of SGIP Priority Action Plans intended to complete the smart grid standards framework.

Related stoires:

The promise and perils of a smart grid

Top 6 hurdles to securing a smart grid

The announcement of the SGIP action came the same week as the release of a study warning that IT security efforts are not keeping pace with smart grid technology.

“Overall, we found little good news about cybersecurity in the electric grid and other crucial services that depend on information technology and industrial control systems,” the second annual critical infrastructure protection report from McAfee concluded.

The report criticized electric power industry security as inadequate for the new technology being deployed and said many utilities are in a state of denial about the risks posed.

The Meter Upgradeability Standard, developed by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, is an effort to future-proof millions of smart electricity meters that are being deployed by utilities to enable remote monitoring and control of power usage. Because the meters require two-way communications and are likely to remain part of the installed infrastructure for decades, utilities need a way to ensure that they can be easily upgraded as technology evolves.

Some utilities have considered halting deployment of new meters because of uncertainty about upgrading them as needed. The new standard could ensure that the next generation of meters would be able to adapt as new technology emerges.

The second product approved by the SGIP government board is a set of guidelines developed for the use of wireless communications in a smart grid environment, which is being published as a NIST Interagency Report

“Wireless is one of several communications options for the smart grid that must be approached with technical rigor to ensure communication systems investments are well suited to meet the needs of the smart grid both today, as well as in the future,” the report states. “The advanced applications and widespread use now foreseen for the smart grid require highly reliable, secure, well-designed, and managed communication networks.”

The report includes an initial set of guidelines to aid designers and developers in the evaluation of wireless technologies to be included in a grid infrastructure.

Deployment of Smart Grid technology has been identified by the Obama administration as a priority both for strengthening the economy and promoting energy independence.

During a panel discussion this week hosted by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, there was concern that security is not a priority for Smart Grid development.

McAfee CTO Phyllis Schneck likened the effort to deploy smart grid technology before it has been fully secured to the adoption of the Internet for commercial and other critical transactions without adequate security being built in. “It appears we’re making the same mistake,” she said.

But the need for security in a Smart Grid infrastructure has been recognized by the administration, which charged NIST with identifying and developing smart grid security standards and specifications.

The standards development process is proceeding in parallel with technology development. Although deployment of new technology has begun with funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act before security standards are complete, Donna F. Dodson, chief of NIST’s Computer Security Division, called SGIP a successful example of public- and private-sector collaboration on cybersecurity.


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