NIST, Europeans to collaborate on smart-grid standards

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, the lead agency in developing technical standards for a U.S. smart grid, will be sharing work with European counterparts to develop a common framework for 21st-century electricity distribution systems.

NIST and the European Union’s Smart Grid Coordination Group released a white paper this week outlining the basic principles of cooperation and identifying areas of collaboration. The goal is to avoid reinventing the wheel at each step of the process.

Although the grids themselves will remain separate, information shared from research and experiences can have practical and economic benefits, said George Arnold, NIST’s national coordinator for Smart Grid interoperability.

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“It benefits everyone if there is a minimum amount of adaptation and customization that has to be done for each market,” Arnold said. “The grids don’t interconnect, but a lot of the equipment that goes into the grid is produced by suppliers who would like to sell their products around the world.”

The smart grid has been identified as a priority in both this country and Europe to help in job creation, to contribute to energy independence and to curb greenhouse gas emissions by allowing the introduction of sustainable energy sources into the grid. It would use intelligent networking and automation to better control the flow and delivery of electricity to consumers, enabling a two-way flow of electricity and information between the power plant and the appliance, and points in between.

NIST was given the lead in developing technical standards in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and money for developing and fielding new electric grid technology has been made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. NIST released the first version of a Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards in January 2010. It identified 75 existing technical standards that were applicable to the smart grid. A second version of the framework, now in draft form, includes 83 applicable standards, some now under development by standards organizations.

New standards to fill the gaps in the existing framework are being developed by the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, headed by NIST. The panel approved the first six interoperability standards for a Catalog of Standards in July.

The European Coordination Group received its mandate to do similar standards work last year, which led to the agreement to cooperate.

“We are doing it now because the European effort, in terms of standards, is about two years behind the U.S.,” Arnold said. “This is really the earliest opportunity we have had to establish this cooperation.”

That does not mean the information flow will be one way, he said. “I think we can benefit from what they’ve learned from some of the deployments in Europe.”

About 20 percent of power in Denmark is being generated by wind, for example, and communications protocols for wind plants are being developed. Use of smart electric meters has a higher penetration in Italy than in this country, where the meters are only now beginning to be deployed.

“Their experience in interconnecting these resources in the grid will be valuable for us to learn from,” Arnold said. “Information sharing can go both ways.”

U.S. and European officials held their first meeting on collaboration in April, Arnold said. “There are new discussions in process on the next level of details.” A formal Letter of Intent is expected to be drafted to describe in more detail the areas and methods of cooperation.

Basic principles described in the white paper call for agreement on a common conceptual model and reference architecture that will form the basis for future standards development and to synchronize efforts so as to take advantage of each other’s work. Specific areas of collaboration identified are:

  • Alignment of key messages. NIST and the European Coordinating Group will work on common key messages and high-level objectives. The white paper is the first product of this effort.
  • Collaboration on reference architecture. NIST and the European Coordinating Group will work to harmonize conceptual models and reference architectures in regular meetings.
  • Exchange of priorities. To keep efforts in synch and take maximum benefit of each other’s effort, NIST and the European Coordinating Group will exchange priorities set by each organization.
  • Regular information exchange concerning legislation, regulation and other policies underpinning smart-grid work; respective work methods and time lines; standardization of deliverables; testing and certification frameworks; and cybersecurity requirements and technologies.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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