Smart Grid Standards

There is considerable angst about standards around the “smart grid” —a project that is in its infancy—well, ok, maybe toddler—stage. NIST, IEEE, FCC, DOE, PAP, PUCs, PSCs, NERC, FERC (and I’m sure to have missed a few in the alphabet soup of agencies) are all involved at some level in attempting to develop various standards for the smart grid.

In case you are wondering what a “smart grid” is versus a “dumb grid”—or maybe what a “grid” is, I’ll digress.  For the most part, utilities do not know a lot about what goes on with the transmission and distribution lines until the inevitable happens—a power outage.  Even then, the utilities often do not know there is an outage until their customers call in (ergo the term “dumb grid).

With the implementation of a “smart grid” there will be many points on the grid—and this is key—with two-way communications.  These two-way communications  sensor, monitor, or measure electricity and can send and receive information to utilities about the grid’s performance.

So, back to standards.  Have you ever tried to hook up a home entertainment system, or perhaps add some components to an existing system?  Consumer electronics is a fairly mature market with a lot of standards that affect everything from the components inside (circuit boards for example) to the ports or plug-ins on the outside.  However, even in such a mature market, companies like Geek Squad thrive due to variations in equipment interfaces and the knowledge required to work around them.

So imagine trying to connect millions of electric meters into the smart grid, from many different vendors, along with hundreds of thousands of substation monitors, line sensors, load controllers and on and on.  Then consider the attempt to make it all work together seamlessly with minimal standards.  It won’t work and we will end up with the mish-mash that we have now.  This requires customers to call in and report outages instead of the utility knowing it immediately.   It increases the likelihood of outages due to the lack of knowledge of what is happening with the grid. Sensors and  Standards ARE important, even critical to the success of a nationwide smart grid.

Standards are critical to achieve the interoperability that is crucial to a truly seamless “smart grid.” They are also crucial to enable utilities to work with third party developers, device makers, cell phone companies and Internet companies.  These players all help to create applications that are actually compelling for homeowners and renters to manage their electric consumption.

Consumers want to manage the energy consumption of major appliances, and will expect that those appliances can send a message if something needs attended to (a filter needs changed, the freezer is starting to fail). Without standards, the ability to do this will be hit or miss.

Even with standards, technology presents frustrating and time-consuming challenges.  To build a truly interoperable “smart grid” standards are a must.  Imagine learning a home energy management system in Texas, and moving to Georgia to be faced with something totally different—something that your smart appliances can no longer communicate with, etc. etc.  Imagine owning an electric vehicle and having to worry about whether the charging station at the mall has the right kind of plug?  Standards will play a big role here.

So do we need standards for the smart grid?  What are you thoughts on that.  What suggestions do you have for the best standards for the electric grid?  We look forward to hearing from you and getting your opinion on this important topic.
Rita Mix Utility Industry Lead Marketing Manager AT&T About Rita