Power plant

NIST updates smart grid framework

Just as the nation’s attention was focused on the power blackouts in Texas caused by winter storms, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology released version 4.0 of the Smart Grid Framework. This latest version outlines a new strategy for developing interoperable equipment and provides guidance and resources for grid cybersecurity.

Interoperable sensors and smart controls in everything from power plants, solar panels and wind turbines to thermostats and water heaters could give the grid data to support the flexibility it needs to maintain service when there are rapid changes in supply and demand. This two-way communication between power generators, utilities and consumers should also be accessible to other parties, NIST said, which would encourage the development of interoperable tools to help all grid participants make more intelligent decisions about power use.

Many utilities already encourage end users to conserve power by giving them a financial incentive to use smart thermostats and water heaters that share data about power consumption so energy can be distributed more efficiently. 

This version of the framework describes interoperability profiles, or detailed interoperability requirements for specific devices. The ultimate goal would be the development of testing and certification programs that would enable widespread use of standard technology.

“The reason Wi-Fi works on everybody's phone and computer and everything else is because the Wi-Fi Alliance has an effective testing and certification program,” NIST Smart Grid Program Manager Avi Gopstein said. “They established specific performance requirements and validation tests. For interoperability, we don’t have that.”

Rather than develop new standards, NIST aims to integrate subsets of existing physical and communication standards for specific types of devices into profiles so that devices based on those profiles would be interoperable with the grid. As more products become certified, the grid would evolve into “more of a plug-and-play ecosystem,” NIST officials said.

The downside of greater interoperability is an increased attack surface, so utilities must be prepared for cyberattacks.

While there are security requirements for the high-voltage elements of the grid, guidance on most other elements is scarce, Gopstein said. Interoperability requirements and standards must include data protection and attack detection as well as the ability to respond to threats and recover from disruption, the framework states.

The latest smart grid framework includes a cybersecurity risk profile, which is based on NIST’s Cybersecurity Framework and contains numerous grid-specific security considerations and provides utilities and others with a structured way to assess current practices and identify areas that need more security.

Read the fourth release of NIST’s Smart Grid Framework here.

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