Smart Standardization


Coordinated efforts aim toward global principles.

Fortnightly Magazine - November 2010

One of the smart grid’s key transformations is the unification of the historically fragmented utility industry, and the future integration with other industries that will partner with the utility industry in the deployment of the smart grid over the next decade. Utilities around the globe will be more closely aligned with, and reliant on, one another, and standards are transitioning to support that fundamental shift within this industry environment.

What’s the state of the smart grid standards effort? Some standards in place today will undergird the smart grid’s progress. Some are in need of refinement. In other areas, gaps are revealing themselves where altogether new standards will need to be developed. A coordinated, sweeping standards effort is gathering across industry and national boundaries, and it will lead to more useful and cost-effective technologies—and, ultimately, a more intelligent and reliable system of electricity delivery.

Importance of Standards

Standards are critical to realizing the smart grid vision—a next-generation, managed infrastructure that powers daily life in a cleaner, more reliable and more affordable way.

Utilities want to cost-efficiently keep the power continuously flowing to their end users. Consumers and enterprises want no outages and lower costs. Suppliers want a profitable business model for interoperable products and services. Governments want to ensure that their constituencies enjoy services and economic opportunities, while better managing the environmental impact of energy production and usage. And, ultimately, this weave of social, political, business and technological drivers points clearly to the necessity of widely adopted smart grid standards.

Hundreds of standards are needed, spanning power generation, transmission, distribution and load serving, along with communications and information technology (IT) services and end use. How will smart meters talk to plug-in vehicles? How will a utility interface with a multi-vendor array of small-scale renewable generation technologies that might be deployed across its user base? How could generation and distribution equipment that’s produced for utilities worldwide seamlessly account for important regional variations in voltage-level regulations, for example? How will these enhanced service grids be managed and protected? How will global regional grids be integrated? How will the smart grid accommodate the power industry’s long-term structure of capital investment, so utilities know the hardware and software they buy today won’t be obsolete in six to 10 years as innovations roll out? These are the types of questions being contemplated today in standards-development organizations (SDOs) around the globe.

A great deal of standards work already has taken place around the smart grid. In the case of IEEE, for example, about 100 standards have been identified as foundational to the effort. IEEE is moving quickly to update, revise and ensure that the standards are relevant in relation to the new demands made by the smart grid.

A key aspect of the value delivered by this initial standards work has been bringing together smart grid stakeholders who historically haven’t worked together.

Crossing Boundaries

The smart grid constitutes a unique and exciting challenge with respect to standards development, primarily because of the uncommon scope and dimensions of unification that it demands—across the traditional boundaries of technology, geography and organizational operations.

For example, through IEEE’s P2030 Working Group, formed in March 2009, the communications, IT and power industries have sought to define common criteria across their disciplines. Interconnection and intra-facing frameworks and strategies with design definitions are among the P2030’s areas of interest. Having held its most recent full meeting in October, the group is developing a guide that’s intended to be released for sponsor balloting within the IEEE in March 2011 and then revised over the years as the smart grid evolves and new needs become evident.

Instances of cultural variances among the industries represented within the P2030 have revealed themselves. Common terms must be established; for example, “reliability” and “network” typically are defined differently in power engineering than they are in communications and IT. Plus, the usual standards processes are different; in power, standards historically take longer to develop, are refined less often and involve fewer people than in IT and communications.

Unification also is taking place across geographic boundaries in SDOs. The broad-strokes changes that the smart grid is intended to bring about largely are shared among nations. Examples include expanded customer choice in intelligent management of usage; two-way power and communications flow across the global infrastructure; demand data moving upstream to inform power generation planning and operations; and greater integration of renewable energy sources. However, various countries emphasize different issues. The European Union has a smart grid strategy task force to determine where EU members should prioritize investments and focus standardization efforts. Japan recently developed its smart grid strategy, with photovoltaics and storage identified as driving forces in improving its electricity delivery system. Korea is supporting nuclear energy as a way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and realize an economic opportunity to export nuclear technologies.

A string of imperatives is appearing across all of these geographies, and governments are becoming very proactive about defining their priorities for the smart grid.

In the United States, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has assumed a vital role in this area. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 charged NIST with developing a framework of interoperability standards for the smart grid, and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act provided $10 million in funding to advance that work. Not only is NIST helping SDOs such as IEEE concentrate their efforts where additional standards work is most critically needed, it also is working to open a channel between SDOs and the public utility commissions, where tariffing decisions will be instrumental in helping utilities recoup their investments in standards-based technologies.

In this way, a circular relationship is forming among government, industry and standards communities. The better coordinated that SDOs are in ensuring that the diverse priorities are sufficiently addressed, the more quickly and fully humanity will realize the smart grid’s revolutionary benefits.

Coordination among SDOs

It can be said that the smart grid now is entering a third evolutionary stage.

Discussion of a smart grid is decades old, and, in fact, the global facility for electricity delivery has been increasing in intelligence for years. The effort has evolved through, first, conceptual requirement assessments and, second, integral catalyst events (i.e., examples in the United States include the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and the stimulus funding for regional demonstration projects and investigation of standards needs).

Today, we’re entering a new evolutionary stage that will see the development of unprecedented relationships— not just within SDOs and between governments and SDOs, but also across the spectrum of different SDOs. SDOs are honing their relationships with other SDOs and looking at where their activities could be complementary. In the last six months, an infrastructure of sorts has started forming.

For example, more than 70 standard interfaces that engineers will need to connect components across the smart grid already have been identified by the IEEE P2030 Working Group in its work toward a guide. Not all of the standards for which the P2030 identifies need necessarily will be developed by IEEE. Other technologies—automobiles, cyber security, sensors, etc.—and the SDOs serving those industries are becoming integrated under the smart grid’s umbrella.

During this stage, there will be hurdles in bringing activities together. Multiple islands of standards serve no one in the smart grid movement. Relationships will evolve across core SDOs, with government in the background, spurring cooperation and relationships.

Impact for Utilities

What does all of this mean for utilities?

Historically, electric power in the United States has been delivered via three separate grids, operated by roughly 3,000 independent utilities. But these companies no longer will operate as islands in the smart grid. Any given utility will be able to reach out across a global network of more diverse resources for aid in meeting its customers’ needs. The standards-development life cycle is one important way that this unprecedented and valuable opportunity will manifest itself.

Through the work of SDOs, lessons learned in introducing the smart grid in one part of the world are shared with utilities in others. For example, in refining IEEE 1547 (“Physical and electrical interconnections between utility and distributed generation (DG)”), IEEE is leveraging data from from Germany, where voltage and frequency requirements aren’t as tight as they are in the United States.

Similarly, interoperability standards will help utilities in the United States to benefit from technologies advancing elsewhere in the world. Examples include high-voltage transmission systems being built in China and Europe; solar and storage technologies being developed in Japan; and nuclear power designs and equipment from Korea. Additionally, Africa and Europe are emerging as key interconnection test beds, for methods of transporting energy from regenerative sources for remote distribution. As the groundbreaking work that’s taking place in these markets is documented and defined, standards emerge as a valuable technology-transfer mechanism for utilities.

Smart Grid Evolution

The smart grid is poised for a tremendous rollout of new and revised technology standards in the next few years, but this will represent no end of value in and of itself. This rollout will be a continuous and evolutionary process, as standards keep pace with new technology developments and provide the mapping necessary to transform the technology to the global marketplace.

Standards development is never about simply documenting requirements; it’s about putting technologies together so they can be used in the marketplace and benefit the world. The objective of the intensifying smart grid standards effort specifically is to improve reliability and intelligence around the grid, so the gamut of economic, political and social goals are addressed and become fully satisfied.

A spectrum of organizations will have long-term roles in the smart grid standards effort, but the international community of SDOs must be coordinated for its efforts to prove meaningful and useful. And that infrastructure of coordination today is gathering form.