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The smart grid and the slippery business of setting industry standards.

Fortnightly Magazine - June 2011

FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller: “I think of Southern California Edison putting in 8,000 to 10,000 smart meters per day… Given that the standards development process is going to take a while—it may be infinite in one sense—what do we do in the meantime?”

Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur was of the same mind:

“One of the things I found most troubling … is just the sheer comprehensiveness and volume of the work. I mean … 3,500 pages and $25,000 just to look at them, and there’s 75 more coming.”

Potentially Dangerous

Darren Highfill, founder of Utilisec, and a self-professed active participant in the NIST SGIP Cyber Security Working Group, provided a picture at the January conference of what lawyers, regulators, and policymakers are up against in coming to grips highly technical engineering standards:

“As an example, some of the cyber suites specified in IEC 62351 (cyber security for communications protocols) already need to be updated to reflect recent changes in the cyber security landscape…

“In summary, the five IEC standards recommended by NIST to FERC are helpful and powerful … but potentially dangerous tools in the context of regulation if not implemented properly.”

IBM’s Ron Ambrosio suggested at the January conference that regulators seeking to insure interoperability should focus simply on interfaces.

Dan Delurey of the Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition (DRSG) continued with that idea in comments he filed in April, pointing out that the three key smart grid interfaces—1) OpenHAN (open home area network), between the meter and customer premises appliances and in-home displays; 2) OpenADR (open automated demand response), at the back-office level between different market participants (such as between load-serving utilities and RTO or ISO grid operators); and 3) OpenADE (open automated data exchange), between the utility back office and third-party data centers—could be seen as corresponding roughly to the three primary benefits of the smart grid: 1) enabling automated control of thermostats, appliances, lighting, and related equipment; 2) providing detailed energy usage, cost, and price data to end users; and 3) enabling dynamic pricing options, such as time-of-use, critical-peak pricing, and peak-time rebates.

In general, the industry comments identified several possible definitions of smart grid interoperability, and appeared to favor the GridWise Architecture Council (GWAC) —Introduction to Interoperability and Decision-Maker’s Interoperability Checklist, version 1.5 (“the seamless, end-to-end connectivity of hardware and software … enhancing coordination of energy flows with real-time flows of information and analysis”).

In contrast to the first five NIST IEC standards, the new, revised SGIP process aims to develop a so-called “catalog” of standards, by which a given standard would progress through a series of graduated stages from birth to maturity, allowing regulators to know what they are dealing with in adopting a standard. The concept was explained at the January conference by Frances Cleveland, president of Xanthus Consulting and chairperson of the standards review subgroup of the SGIP’s Cyber Security Working Group.

As Cleveland described it, a purely informational standard might earn adoption category 0. Category 1 would indicate potential adoption. Category 2 would denote a completed specification. Category 3 would indicate completion of