NIST fills some gaps in smart-grid standards

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has added 22 technical standards in its updated roadmap for smart-grid interoperability and security.

The Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability is part of a national effort to develop an intelligent power grid capable of supporting the two-way flow of power and information. NIST has been charged in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 with identifying and developing the technical standards needed to ensure that utilities, manufacturers, equipment testers and regulators will be working on the same page.

Release 2.0 of the document  fills in some of the gaps for technical standards identified in the first version, released in January 2010. The original version identified 75 existing standards applicable to smart-grid development, as well as 15 high priority gaps where standards were needed.

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“The listed standards have undergone an extensive vetting process and are expected to stand the test of time as useful building blocks for firms producing devices and software for the Smart Grid, as well as for utilities, regulators, academia, and other Smart Grid stakeholders,” the authors of the roadmap wrote.

The standards that have been identified so far are not binding on power industry, however. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last year agreed with industry representatives that the catalog of standards, especially for cybersecurity, was not yet complete enough to warrant mandatory adoption.

NIST began working on roadmap in 2008. Developing a set of standards for the grid took on urgency in 2009 when $4.5 billion was made available through the Energy Department in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the development of smart-grid technologies, to modernize existing infrastructure and fund demonstration and deployment programs.

NIST developed a three-phase plan to accelerate the identification of existing standards applicable to the smart grid; establish a Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) of government, standards organizations and industry groups for the development of the many additional standards that will be needed; and to create a conformity testing and certification infrastructure.

The technical roadmap for the grid is being developed alongside the grid infrastructure itself. Many of the ARRA investment grant projects will come to fruition in the near future. “As experience with new Smart Grid technologies is gained from these projects, NIST and the SGIP will use these lessons learned to further identify the gaps and shortcomings of the standards upon which these technologies are based,” the authors wrote.

The smart grid has been identified as a national priority to help create jobs, contribute to energy independence and 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.

The roadmap identifies eight priority areas critical to ongoing and near-term deployments of smart-grid technology:

Demand response and consumer energy efficiency. This includes mechanisms and incentives for utilities, business, industrial, and residential customers to cut energy use during times of peak demand or when power reliability is at risk.

Wide-area situational awareness. The monitoring and display of power-system components and performance across interconnections and over large geographic areas in near real time.

Means of storing energy, directly or indirectly.

Electric transportation; enabling large-scale integration of plug-in electric vehicles.

Network communications: This refers to a variety of public and private communication networks, both wired and wireless, that will be used for Smart Grid domains and sub-domains.

Advanced metering infrastructure to provide near real-time monitoring of power usage. This is a current focus of utilities.

Distribution grid management: This focuses on maximizing performance of feeders, transformers and other components of networked distribution systems and integrating them with transmission systems and customer operations.

Cybersecurity, to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the electronic information communication systems and control systems.

Although the technical standards are generally recognized by hardware and software developers and vendors, implementing them as requirements for the power industry is a challenging process. The industry is under the authority of multiple state commissions, and FERC oversees interstate transmission and regional and wholesale electricity markets. FERC is charged with turning the standards into rules when it is satisfied that NIST’s work has led to “sufficient consensus.”

In considering the five families of standards identified in the first release of the roadmap, the commission in July 2011 found “insufficient consensus to institute a rulemaking proceeding at this time. Commenters are nearly unanimous that we should not adopt these standards at this time, citing concerns with cyber security deficiencies and potential unintended consequences from premature adoption of individual standards.”

FERC supports the NIST process, however, and encouraged utilities, manufacturers, regulators, and other stakeholders to participate in the framework process.

NIST supported the decision, but urged FERC to recommend the user of the framework and roadmap without mandating compliance. Success of the framework will depend on broad adoption NIST said in the updated document. “Although the NIST framework and roadmap effort is the product of federal legislation, broad engagement of Smart Grid stakeholders at the state and local levels is essential to ensure the consistent voluntary application of the standards being developed.”


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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