NIST completes first release of Smart Grid framework

An initial framework with standards for developing a secure and interoperable intelligent energy-distribution grid was released this week by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“A Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 1.0” was announced during a conference of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which NIST hosted. It identifies existing technical standards likely to be applicable to a Smart Grid and prioritizes future action. It is the first step under an aggressive three-phase plan to develop Smart Grid technical standards as required by the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007.

The Smart Grid program has become an important element of the Obama administration’s economic recovery strategy with the promise of creating jobs, contributing to energy independence and curbing greenhouse-gas emissions. The Smart Grid would use intelligent networking and automation to better control the flow and delivery of electricity to consumers, enabling a two-way flow of electricity and information between the power plant and the appliance, as well as points in between. With money for developing and fielding new electric grid technology becoming available with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, industry now needs standards for interoperability and security.

EISA gave the Energy Department the overall lead of the Smart Grid program and assigned to NIST the job of developing a framework of standards and protocols to ensure interoperability and security. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has regulatory authority over the interstate energy industry, must approve the final standards.

“There is an urgent need to establish protocols and standards for the Smart Grid,” the report says. “Deployment of various Smart Grid elements, including smart sensors on distribution lines, smart meters in homes and widely dispersed sources of renewable energy, is already under way and will be accelerated as a result of Department of Energy (DOE) Smart Grid Investment Grants and other incentives, such as loan guarantees for renewable energy generation projects. Without standards, there is the potential for technologies developed or implemented with sizable public and private investments to become obsolete prematurely or to be implemented without measures necessary to ensure security.”

EISA, which designates development of a Smart Grid as a national policy goal, specifies that the interoperability framework should be flexible, uniform and technology-neutral.

The first release of the framework describes a high-level conceptual reference model for the Smart Grid, identifies 75 existing standards that are likely to be applicable to the development of the Smart Grid, specifies 15 high-priority gaps or areas that need to be harmonized (in addition to cyber security) for which new or revised standards are needed, documents action plans with aggressive timelines for standards-setting organizations to address these gaps, and describes the strategy to establish requirements and standards to help ensure Smart Grid cyber security.

“The Smart Grid will ultimately require hundreds of standards, specifications and requirements,” the document says. “Some are needed more urgently than others.” The framework identifies eight priorities for standards development:

  • Demand response and consumer energy efficiency
  • Wide-area situational awareness
  • Energy storage
  • Electric transportation
  • Advanced metering infrastructure
  • Distribution grid management
  • Cybersecurity and
  • Network communications

The second phase of the process began in November 2009 with the launch of a Smart Grid Interoperability Panel to help NIST develop needed standards. The panel now includes nearly 500 organizations and 1,350 individuals. The final step is to develop a program for testing and certification to ensure that Smart Grid equipment and systems comply with standards.

“Ensuring cybersecurity of the Smart Grid is a critical priority,” the framework says, and achieving it requires incorporating security at the architectural level. A Cyber Security Coordination Task Group led by NIST and consisting of almost 300 participants from the private and public sectors is developing a cybersecurity strategy for the Smart Grid.

Results of the group’s work to date are included in a companion NIST Interagency Report 7628, “Smart Grid Cyber Security Strategy and Requirements,” a draft of which was issued in September 2009. A public comment period for the draft ended December 1 and a second draft incorporating suggestions is expected to be released in February for a second round of public comment.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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