Saturday, July 10, 2010

Smart Grid Architecture and Standards: Assessing Coordination and Progress


Smart Grid Architecture and Standards: Assessing Coordination and Progress

The Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a hearing last July 1st on the development of the interoperability standards that will enable the growth of a reliable, efficient, and secure smart grid.

“Our nation’s electrical grid has often been called the biggest machine on Earth. With the addition of smart appliances, solar roofing shingles, and networks of communication systems, the grid will become bigger and more complex,” said Subcommittee Chairman David Wu (D-OR). “This scale and complexity makes it imperative that those involved in developing and using the smart grid share a common technical view—or framework—of the system.”

The smart grid has a two-way communication network to help consumers and utilities better manage electric infrastructure. With smart grid technologies, customers have access to real-time data on the price of electricity. Since prices fluctuate throughout the day based on demand, consumers can use that information to make informed decisions about their energy use. Smart grid technologies will also enable more widespread adoption of electric vehicles and encourage the use of renewable energy sources, particularly in individual homes and businesses. These features will help us move toward a more efficient and more reliable electric grid.

Given the smart grid’s highly interconnected nature, standards are essential to ensuring that grid components will work together. As directed by the Energy Independence and Security Act, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is coordinating efforts to develop a common framework and interoperability standards. These guidelines are crucial to encouraging widespread adoption of energy-saving technologies, such as rooftop solar panels and smart appliances, as well as encouraging utilities to invest in smart grid infrastructure. Witnesses from NIST joined private and public stakeholders to update the Subcommittee on progress in standards development.

“The benefits of smart grid will come from massive participation and widespread adoption of new technologies—and for that to work, we need the smart grid to be ‘plug-and-play,’” said Wu. “No consumer wants to find out that the smart dishwasher they bought a year ago will not work with the home network they just purchased. And few consumers will install solar panels, wind turbines, or fuel cells for their homes if it’s not easy to see how much power they’re creating or track the value of their investment.”

Since 2007, NIST has brought together more than 1,500 interested parties—including power generators, utility regulators, high-tech companies, and software developers—to identify gaps and coordinate efforts to develop new standards. NIST has created 16 Priority Action Plans to focus on specific needs, such as communications, metering, and support infrastructure for plug-in vehicles. NIST has also created a 300-member task group to focus solely on cybersecurity protection measures.

Members and witnesses discussed the importance of individual privacy and securities, noting that the energy usage data that characterizes the smart grid could also reveal such personal habits as when people shower, run a washing machine, or are in their home. Members also stressed the importance of NIST continuing to meet its ambitious timelines for standards development while maintaining quality, especially given the large scale of investment in the project from both private funding and the Recovery Act.

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