The essence of the Smart Grid is the integration of ICT with PST (power system technology) to modernize the electric grid. Therefore ICT standardization and Smart Grid standardization are inextricably intertwined.
From an ICT perspective, today’s grid is much like our IT systems were thirty years ago, consisting of islands of closed proprietary systems that could not talk to one another. Realizing the vision of the Smart Grid requires evolution to an interoperable multi-vendor system of systems based on open standards. The necessity of this transformation is well recognized by policy makers. For example, the U.S. Congress in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 directed NIST to coordinate the development of a framework of standards and protocols to achieve end-to-end interoperability. Progress has been made in defining a standards foundation for the Smart Grid through collaboration between NIST and many relevant standards bodies such as IEC, IEEE, ISO, ITU-T, IETF, among others.
How long will the standardization process take? The evolution of the IT industry away from the alphabet soup of proprietary architectures like SNA, DECNet, etc. to the open paradigm we have today using internet and web-based standards took over two decades. The development of standards for Next Generation Networks (NGN) in telecom took five years. We cannot afford to take this long to establish foundational standards for the Smart Grid. Billions are being spent to deploy equipment and systems – without standards we run the risk that these investments will become prematurely obsolete or lack appropriate security.
While we need to speed up the historically slow standardization process, we also need to recognize that some aspects of Smart Grid technology are immature and we need to be careful not to make decisions that send the industry down a dead end. For example how the home area network environment and how smart appliances should interact with the grid is not completely understood. This is a fruitful area for innovation and experimentation. However without uniform standards that ensure a nationwide if not global market, it is unlikely that appliance makers will commit to bring smart appliances to the market. Adoption of standards can help reduce uncertainty and accelerate availability of products. How do we avoid setting standards too early, while still fostering the market development that standards facilitate?
I would like to elaborate on the global notion. Many countries are focusing on modernization of their electric grids, and most of the suppliers of the equipment and systems for the grid want to address the global market. Needless variations in standards from country to country require suppliers to make costly adaptations for different countries, raising costs for utilities and electricity consumers. Standards for the Smart Grid should be developed at the international level wherever possible. This promotes the broadest choice of suppliers, and promotes innovation and competition.