Smart grid 1.0 a big step in overhauling electricity infrastructure

"The smart grid is a very complex system of systems. There's need to be a shared understanding of its major building blocks and how they inter-relate," the document says. The document does a good job of breaking down the relevant pieces of the smart grid and prioritizing them. by John Dodge

The National Institute of Technology and Standards' (NIST) 90-page proposal for smart grid interoperability demonstrates the complex challenge facing the power industry, equipment vendors and ultimately, consumers.

Released this morning, The NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards Release 1.0 (draft) identifies 77 existing standards, 14 gaps and cyber security as key to the initial development of a smart grid. The smart grid will "ultimately require hundreds of standards."  

While this document is primarily for smart grid wonks, it describes the challenge and "urgency" with which it is being undertaken. Even for uninitiated, it helps defines the smart grid, why we are doing it and what's in it.

“To use an analogy from the construction world, this report is like a designer’s first detailed drawing of a complex structure,” said Commerce secretary Gary Locke in prepared remarks. “It presents a high-level conceptual model to ensure that everyone is on the same page before moving forward to develop more detailed, formal Smart Grid architectures. This high-level model is critical to help plan where to go next.”

So skip the last five pages which lists more than 150 acronyms relevant to the power industry and what will soon be the smart grid. The overview in the first 20 pages puts the smart grid in relative lay terms and I applaud its authors for creating something quite understandable.

There are many reasons why are we doing the smart grid. Besides cutting electric bills and creating a vastly more efficient and reliable electrical system, the document says the goal is to cut oil imports in half, reduce carbon emissions by 25 per cent and urban air pollution by 40-90 per cent.

In a general sense, we knew all that. What I want to know is how a smart grid will be built and who will call the shots (where consumers stand with the smart grid will explored in future posts...some believe they could get left behind with utilities reaping most of the benefits).

"The smart grid is a very complex system of systems. There's need to be a shared understanding of its major building blocks and how they inter-relate," the document says. The document does a good job of breaking down the relevant pieces of the grid and prioritizing them.

It starts with a Smart Grid Conceptual Reference Model that divides the industry into seven domains: bulk generation, transmission, distribution, customers, operations, service provider and markets. The model also describes the relationships between actors and applications within each domain.

The framework then identifies that priority areas that will get the immediate attention of the stakeholders. Some cut into broad areas such as transportation. They include:

--Demand response mechanisms that balance power demand during peak periods.

--Consumer efficiency

--Wide area situational awareness that monitors the grid and its interconnects in "near real time."

--Electric storage is key to renewable sources of energy. More robust means for storage beyond just hydroelectric power must be created.

--Electric transportation is a priority as plug-in electric vehicles are introduced.

-- Network management and credible cyber security are centerpieces of a secure and reliable smart grid.

-- Advanced Metering Infrastructure will allow the utilities and customers monitor and record usage and thereby control it.

-- Distribution grid management maximizes the performance of feeders, transformers and other system components with transmission and customer operations.

So far, there is a "strong consensus" on 31 standards and another 46 have been identfiied that will be put up for public comment. While 70 gaps and issues calling for new standards have been identified, 14 have been put on the priority list.  The plan calls for filling the priority gaps and issues by the end of next year with one - the smart meter upgradeability standard - already done.

One aspect getting a great deal of attention is security. Indeed, a sub-group is tackling this problem and it involves collaboration between utilities, EnerNex Corp., the Dept. Energy and a host of national laboratories and universities.

"We have millions of devices on homes and poles so we have to architect them assuming they are going to be hacked. It is inevitable. We have to make sure when they are hacked, they don't compromise upstream into the data center," said Dave Dalva, smart grid security lead at Cisco Systems.

The next steps include formation of a public-private panel to set up a permanent body to drive the evolution of standards and 30 days of public comment on the current proposal.

"We agree that standards are very important so everyone has a rulebook in the design of equipment and systems," said John Kelly, deputy director of The Galvin Initiative, a non-proft advocating for microgrids.

At the same time, winners and losers will emerge as standards are defined. "A lot of vendors will be looking at [the standards] so they don't get blocked or disadvantaged," said Kelly.

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